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Famous First, Memorable Debuts and Major Watersheds
TSI TEAM | Issue Dated: July 8, 2012, New Delhi
Tags : first indian film | Indias first filmmakers | First full-length Indian feature film |

India’s first filmmakers:
Hiralal Sen and Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatavdekar (popularly known as Save Dada). Both were still photographers. Sen filmed stage plays since 1898. He set up Royal Bioscope Company (India’s first film production outfit) with brother, Motilal Sen, in 1899. He is believed to have made India’s, indeed the world’s, first-ever feature-length film, Alibaba and Forty Thieves, in 1904. Its length is disputed because no copy of the film is extant. All his work was tragically destroyed in a fire in his studio days before his death.

In November 1899, Bhatavdekar filmed a wrestling bout at Hanging Gardens, Bombay. He then shot a scene of circus monkeys being trained and other ‘documentary’ footage.

Save Dada was at Watson’s Hotel, where the first-ever film show in India was held on July 7, 1896. Captivated by the Lumiere show, he ordered a camera from England. He filmed local scenes and an event which is now generally regarded as the first Indian news film, the return to India from England in December 1901 of RP Paranjype, education minister of the Bombay Presidency.

India’s first movie entrepreneur:
Jamshedji Framji Madan, a Parsi theatre doyen who made a series of short films for his Elphinstone Bioscope Company, Calcutta, which assumed a new avatar, Madan Theatres, in 1918.

He started showing films in a tent bioscope on the Maidan, Calcutta in 1902. Madan recognised the immense potential of the emerging business and diversified his company. Madan was the first to go beyond just production and branch out into distribution and exhibition. He built India’s first cinema house in Calcutta. Madan Theatres produced Bengal’s first commercially released full-length silent feature, Bilwamangal. It began its run at Cornwallis Theatre, Theatre, on November 11, 1919.

The eminent Bengali poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, who many decades later became Bangladesh’s national poet, was on the staff of Madan Theatres. He was the sur bhandari (music director). He was also a director, storywriter, actor and singer. Nazrul co-directed Dhruba with Satyendra Nath Dey. Nazrul himself played the lead role. He later formed a film production house, BT Pictures, named after ‘Sher-e-Bangla’ Fazlul Haque. BT stands for Bengal Tiger (Sher-e-Bangla). In fact, Nazrul’s foray into cinema showed Muslim personalities of Bengal the way forward, to break socio-religious barriers and join the industry.

First cinema hall:
Built by J.F. Madan in Calcutta in 1907. It was named Elphinstone Picture Palace (currently Chaplin Theatre). (Mrs Klug’s Bioscope, Broadway, Chennai, started in April 1911)

India’s first ‘story film’:
Pundalik, the “first story film of India”, was released on May 19, 1912. The film was only 12 minutes long. Made jointly by NG Chitre, manager of Coronation Cinematograph in Bombay, PR Tipnis, a Delhi-based distributor, and Dadsaheb Torney, it was about a saint of Maharashtra.  

First full-length Indian feature film:
Dhundiraj Govind Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra was released on May 3, 1913 at the Coronation CInematograph. Dadasaheb Phalke arranged a preview of the 3,700-feet film two weeks earlier at Bombay’s Olympia cinema. He invited eminent people from different walks of life for the show. Raja Harishchandra ran for 23 days.
First box office hit: Lanka Dahan (1917), directed by Phalke. It was released at the West End Cinema in Girgaum, Bombay. It was tagged to an American feature film, but made such an impact that it ran for 23 weeks.

First Indian film to be banned:
Bhakt Vidur (1921), produced by Kohinoor Studios, Bombay. The proprietor of the studio, Dwarkadas Narandas Sampat, played the leading role himself. He bore a resemblance to Mahatma Gandhi. He donned a Gandhi-like costume and made himself up to look like the Mahatma. The Censors banned the film on political grounds. But Dwarkadas Seth managed to get the ban lifted in some parts of India and the film was a success wherever it was exhibited.

First Act to regulate cinema:
The Cinematograph Act, 1918. It was replaced post-Independence by the Cinematograph Act, 1952.

First film censorship board:
Censor boards were set up in Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and Rangoon in 1920; and then in Lahore in 1927.

India’s first studio star:
Patience Cooper. She starred in Nala Damayanti (1920), produced by the Madans of Calcutta, besides numerous other films.

First American import:
Dorothy Kingdom. She was the lead actress in Shakuntala (1920), directed by Suchet Singh, a pioneer of the pre-studio era who studied filmmaking in the US before returning to India.

First social satire:
Bilet Pherat (England Returned, 1921, Bengali), produced by and starring Dhiren Ganguly. It inaugurated the trail of social films dealing with love, romance and the east-west conflict.

First Saratchandra adaptation:
Andhare Alo (1922), directed by Bengali theatre doyen Sisir Bhaduri and Naresh Mitra

India’s first co-production:
Savitri (1923). Directed by Giorgio Mannini. It was co-produced by a studio in Rome, UC Italiana and India’s Madan Theatres. It was shot in Rome with Italian actors. Madan Theatres had Italians and Frenchmen on its staff. Savitri was played by Rina de Liguoro, and Angelo Ferrari was cast as Satyavan.

The first historical film:
Sinhagad (1923), directed by Baburao Painter. This was India’s first full-scale historical film. It dramatised an episode from the military history of 17th century Maratha emperor Shivaji. The influential film was remade a decade later by V Shantaram for Prabhat Film.

First Indian film made by a woman:
Bulbul-e-Paristan (1926), Director: Fatma Begum. Starring Zubeida, this was a big budget fantasy

Franz Osten’s Indian debut:
Prem Sanyas/The Light of Asia (1925). It was made by the Indo-German unit that led to the creation of Bombay Talkies. It starred Himanshu Rai, Sita Devi and Sarada Ukil. The film was screened in the US in 1928. The Himanshu Rai-Franz Osten collaboration yielded films like Shiraz (1928) and Prapancha Pash (A Throw of Dice, 1929).

First film about land rights:
Neera (1926). It was directed by R S Choudhury (under whom Mehboob Khan began his career as an apprentice). The issue of land rights was later extensively addressed by Mehboob Khan in Roti (1942). In 1925, Baburao Painter had made Savkari Pash, dealing with the consequences of rural exploitation, which was later tackled by Bimal Roy in Do Bigha Zameen, and a host of other subsequent films.

The first Devdas film:
Devdas (1928), directed by Naresh Mitra and starring Phani Burma. Camera: Nitin Bose. No written text, barring the Indian epics and the Shakespearean tragedies, has been adapted for the screen as many times as Sarat Chandra’s novella. Including the latest, Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D., the story of star-crossed lovers has been brought to the screen 12 times in Bengali, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. 

First Tagore screen adaptation:
Balidan (1927), directed by Naval Gandhi. It was based on Tagore’s 1887 play, Bisarjan. Tagore, on his own part, wanted to make a film and had scripted The Child. But the film was never made. In 1932, he filmed the talkie Natir Puja, a film based on a 1926 dance drama of the same name. The film was produced by New Theatres. Students of Santiniketan played different roles. The film was released in Chitra theatre on February 23, 1932. Tagore also scripted the inter-titles of Giribala (1928), a film made by Madhu Bose.

First Mughal era historical:
Nur Jehan (1923), a Madan Theatres film starring Patience Cooper. The Loves of a Mughal Prince (1928), based on the seminal Urdu play, Anarkali, was the next Mughal era historical. The film was beaten to the screen by RS Choudhury’s Anarkali (1928), starring Sulochana. It was remade in 1935 by Choudhury himself, in 1953 by Nandlal Jaswantlal, and in 1960 by K Asif (Mughal-e-Azam).

V Shantaram’s first film:
Netaji Palkar (1927)

First major Shivaji film:
Udaykal (1930), a key film inspired by the life of Shivaji. Udaykal was an influence in turning the Maratha emperor into a key figure in Marathi historicals. Another Marathi cinema pioneer, Bhalji Pendharkar, made several major films about Shivaji after the advent of sound, most notably Chhatrapati Shivaji (1952).
First screen kiss:
Charu Roy and Sita Devi in A Throw of Dice (1930). In British India, kissing on screen wasn’t taboo.  In the 1933 film, Karma, real life couple Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani performed a kissing scene that lasted four minutes. Post-1947, kissing was forbidden on the screen for many decades. Inhibitions have vanished in the last decade and Indian actors today do not shy away from a lip lock anymore.

Indian cinema’s first vamp:
Italian actress Signorina Manelli in Pati Bhakti (1922), produced by Madan Theatres of Calcutta. In the film, the voluptuous actress wore see-through dresses and performed a dance number that had to be re-censored.

First star marriage:
Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani (1929). There was a marked disparity in their ages, but their affair took roots during the making of A Throw of Dice. By the time the film was wrapped up, Himanshu and Devika were man and wife. For their honeymoon, they made a trip to Germany, where A Throw of Dice was processed.

First feature film made in Kerala:
Vigathakumaran (1928), directed by JC Daniel

First Indian talkie:
Imperial Movietone’s Alam Ara (runtime: 124 minutes), released on March 14, 1931, narrowly beat Madan Theatres’ Shirin Farhad (runtime: 120 minutes) to the theatre.

Alam Ara used song, dance and music, which became the mainstay of Indian commercial cinema. Alam Ara was a successful Parsi theatre play. Ardeshir Irani adapted it for India’s first talkie. It presented the first songs of Indian cinema but had no title cards crediting the music director, lyricist and singers. WM Khan became Indian cinema’s first singer, lending his voice to the song, De de khuda ke naam par pyaare, taaqat hai gar dene ki. The songs were played during the filming and recorded on a Tanar single-system camera, but no discs were cut. The first discs of the songs came out only in 1934.

Shirin Farhad turned out to be a bigger hit than Alam Ara. Shirin Farhad also made a crucial technical advancement by recording sound and image separately, a method that was widely accepted in later years owing to the flexibility it offered.

First English talkie produced in India:
Karma (1933); Director: Himanshu Rai. Premiered at the Marble Arch Pavilion, London, the film received glowing reviews from the English press. One paper said: “Go and hear the English spoken by Devika Rani. You will never hear a lovelier voice or diction, or see a lovelier face.”

First English song in an Indian film:
Now the moon her light has shed, sung by Devika Rani for the film Karma (1933) under the baton of music director Ernest Broadhurst.

First Telugu talkie:
Bhakta Prahlad (1931), directed by HM Reddy

First Tamil talkie:
Kalidas (1931), directed by HM Reddy. Released on October 31, 1931, it was shot in Bombay like all Tamil films between 1931and 1934. Kalidas was produced by Ardeshir Irani and shot on the sets that were used for Alam Ara. The film had Tamil dialogue and Telugu songs. Telugu was deemed to be a better vehicle for Kalidas’ compositions because it was closer to Sanskrit.

First Marathi talkie:
Ayodhyache Raja (1932), directed by V Shantaram

First Bengali talkie:
Jamai Sashthi (1931), directed by Amar Chaudhuri. Released a month after Alam Ara, on April 11, 1931.

New Theatres’ first major hit:
Chandidas (1932, Bengali), directed by Debaki Bose. The studio was founded in Calcutta by BN Sircar. New Theatres also produced Pramathesh Barua’s Hindi-Bengali bilingual Devdas (1935).

First Malayalam talkie:
Balan (1938), directed by S Notani

First Kannada talkie:
Bhakta Dhruva (1934), but Sati Sulochana was released earlier.

First Indian film inspired by Hollywood:
Indirama (1934). Its theme – the East-West conflict – was presented in the form of a love triangle. Inspired by Clarence Brown’s Free Soul

Munshi Premchand’s only brush with cinema:
Mohan Bhavnani’s Mazdoor (1934)

First ODIA feature:
Seeta Bibaha (1936), directed by Mohan Sunder Dev Goswami. The film was a success, yet the next Odia feature, Lalita, was made only in 1949.

Fearless Nadia’s first hit:
Hunterwali (1935). The stunt film was scripted and directed by Homi Wadia.

Bombay Talkies’ first production:
Jawani Ki Hawa (1935, Franz Osten’s first Hindi-language film), a romantic thriller.

First Assamese feature:
Joymati (1935), directed by Jyotiprasad Agarwala

Mehboob Khan’s debut:
Judgement of Allah (1935). Set in the Ottoman Empire. Inspired by Cecil B DeMille’s The Sign of the Cross (1932)

Sohrab Modi’s debut:
Khoon Ka Khoon (1935). It was based on Hamlet, and was Hindi cinema’s first Shakespearean adaptation.

First colour film:
Kisan Kanya (1936), directed by Moti Gidwani and produced by Ardeshir Irani’s Imperial Movietone.
First playback song: Maestro Rai Chand Boral introduced playback singing for the first time in the film Dhoop Chhaaon (1935). The song Main Khush Hona Chahoon… had an all-women chorus led by Parul Ghosh with Suprova Sarkar and Harimati.

Bimal Roy’s debut:
Udayer Pathe/Hamrahi (1944), produced by New Theatres. Roy moved to Bombay in 1950 and made the epochal Do Bigha Zameen (1953). Under the banner of Bimal Roy Productions, he crafted some of the finest social dramas in the history of Hindi cinema. 

First Madras film to become an all-India hit:
SS Vasan’s Chandralekha (1948)

First Indian film to win a Cannes award:
Neecha Nagar (1946). Director: Chetan Anand. In 1954, Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen received a Special Mention in Cannes. In 1966, Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali  won a prize.

India’s first Oscar nominee:
Mother India (1957), directed Mehboob Khan

First Hindi film to be distributed in the West:
Aan (1952), directed by Mehboob Khan. It was also the first Hindi film to be dubbed in Tamil. A shorter dubbed French version, Mangala Fille des Indes, was released in 1954. Earlier, Raj Nartaki/Court Dancer, produced by Wadia Movietone and directed by Madhu Bose, was released in provincial theatres in the US. It was a trilingual – Hindi, English and Bengali.

Ritwik Ghatak’s debut: Nagarik (1952). This remarkable filmmaker, who was plagued all his life by indifference from audience and producers alike, passed away three and a half decades ago, leaving much of his life’s work incomplete. But whatever Ghatak achieved in a career spanning 20 years or so left an indelible mark on the evolution of the independent Indian cinema, a lively counterpoint to the mainstream entertainment-oriented films that have dominated the showbiz landscape. He has a singular and permanent place in the pantheon of movie greats.

Sivaji Ganesan’s debut:
Parasakthi (1952), a classic DMK film scripted by M Karunanidhi 

Satyajit Ray’s debut:
Pather Panchali (1955), the film that put India on the world cinema map. Ray consistently figures in the list of the world’s greatest filmmakers no matter where such a list is drawn up. A true master of the medium and a multi-talented creator, he brought Indian cinema genuine global prestige.

The triumvirate that transformed popular Hindi cinema:
Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand. Raj Kapoor was 11 when he made his acting debut in Inquilab (1935). He played the male lead opposite Madhubala in Neel Kamal (1947). Set up his own production company, RK Films, in 1948. Made his directorial debut the same year with Aag.

Dilip Kumar, one of Indian cinema’s greatest actors, debuted in Jwar Bhata (1944) and went on to star in some of Hindi cinema’s most iconic films, including Devdas (1955) and Mughal-e-Azam (1960).

Dev Anand’s acting debut was in Hum Ek Hain (1946), produced by Prabhat. His first big break was Ziddi (1948). In 1949, he co-founded (with elder brother Chetan Anand) Navketan Films .

Rajinikanth's debut:
K Balachander’s Apoorva Raagangal (1975). Rajinikanth had a small role in the film. Kamal Haasan was the lead actor. 1976, gave Rajini a more substantial role in another Kamal Haasan starrer, Moondru Mudichi. There was no looking back.

Adoor’s debut:
Swayamvaram (1972), Fresh from FTII, Adoor Gopalakrishnan changed the course of Malayalam and Indian cinema.

Shyam Benegal's debut:
The success of Ankur (1973) launched Shyam Benegal’s career.

Rajesh Khanna's debut:
Aakhri Khat (1966), directed by Chetan Anand. His first break as a lead actor was in Raaz. Aradhana (1969) gave birth to the megastar who, despite a brief reign, redefined Indian movie stardom forever. Never before or since has there been the sort of mass hysteria that Khanna generated in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Big B's breakthrough:
Prakash Mehra’s Zanjeer (1973). Thanks to his baritone voice, the first film assignment the Amitabh Bachchan got was as the narrator for Mrinal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome (1969). His first onscreen role was in KA Abbas’ Saat Hindustani. His performance in the film fetched him the National Award for best newcomer of the year. Amitabh imprinted himself on the consciousness of nation with his role as Babumoshai in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand. The angry young man was, however, born in Zanjeer. 

KamalaHasan’s first film:
He made his debut as a child actor in 1959, playing a National Award-winning role in A Bhimsingh’s Kalathur Kannamma. From the film that made him a superstar – K. Balachander’s Apoorva Raagangal (1975), in which he played a young man who falls in love with an older woman – to his last release, Manmadan Ambu (2010), Kamal’s career has been a constant voyage of discovery. His ability to keep stagnation at bay has helped him evade the image trap that many an Indian superstar falls into. The protean superstar is now gearing up for the release of his fourth directorial venture, Viswaroopam,

Shahrukh Khan's debut:
Deewana (1992)

Aamir Khan's debut:
Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988)


The setting up of Merchant-Ivory Films: 1961. Indian-born Ismail Merchant was thrice nominated as producer for Best Picture Oscar (A Room With a View, 1986; Howards End, 1992; Remains of the Day, 1993)

First Hollywood film dubbed in Hindi:
Jurassic Park, 1993

India’s first multiplex:
PVR Anupam, Saket, New Delhi, 1997   

First film Insured:
Producer director Subhash Ghai's banner Mukta Arts took a Rs 11 crore policy for Taal (1999) with United India Insurance.

First songless Hindi film:
JBH Wadia's Naujawan (1937) did away with songs as it was a fast-paced thriller.

First horror film:
Ramsay Brothers' Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neechey established the horror genre in Hindi films in 1972.
birth of new Indian Cinema:

Mrinal Sen's Bhuvan Shome and Mani Kaul's Uski Roti inaugurated the New Indian Cinema in 1969/

National Film Awards instituted: 1954; Marathi film Shyamchi Aai won the prize for best film.

India's first film festival:
Held in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta, 1952, organised by Films Division. Vittorio de Sica’s films made a huge impact. 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017