India’s first indigenously-made feature film in colour: “Kisan Kanya” (Hindi, 1937)

In our post about Fatma Begum, India’s first woman film director, we had mentioned Ardeshir Irani as the father of Indian talkie films, as he was involved with the making of both “Alam Ara” (the first Indian talkie) and “Kalidas” (the first Tamil talkie), both of which were released in 1931. In fact, “Kalidas” was made on the sets of “Alam Ara” by Ardeshir Irani’s former assistant HM Reddy.

It turns out that Ardeshir Irani has been responsible for other landmarks as well in India’s cinematic history. His production company, Imperial Pictures, backed “Kisan Kanya”, India’s first indigenously-made feature film in colour. The movie, directed by Moti B Gidvani, was coloured using the Cinecolor process that was acquired from an American film by the producers Imperial Pictures. Given below is a still from the film:

"Kisan" | Hindi | 1937. Photo Courtesy: The Times of India

“Kisan Kanya” | Hindi | 1937. Photo Courtesy: The Times of India

The ‘indigenously-made’ tag comes into play thanks to other experiments with colour by pioneer V Shantaram, who co-founded the Prabhat Film Company. In 1933, he produced a Marathi film titled “Sairandhri,” which had some scenes shot in colour. But in the case of “Sairandhri,” the film was printed and processed in Germany, thereby allowing “Kisan Kanya” to be remembered as the first indigenously-made feature film in Hindi. “Kisan Kanya” is said to have had a run time of 137 minutes and its cast is reported to include actors such as Padmadevi, Jillo, Ghulam Mohammed, Nissar, Syed Ahmed, and Gani.

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The story of Fatma Begum, India’s first woman film director

While pulling out playback singer Shamshad Begum’s version of Katiya Karoon, we at TCRC realised that she was one of the earliest female playback singers in the Hindi film industry. This set us off on a search for India’s first woman film director and led us to this interesting piece on Fatma Begum, written by Rohit Vats for IBN Live as a part of their “100 years of Indian cinema” series. Here’s an excerpt from that piece (click here to read the entire story):

Born in an Urdu speaking family, Fatma Begum was related to Nawab Sidi Ibrahim Muhammad Yakut Khan III. She was the mother of Zubeida, Sultana and Shehzadi, who were popular actors of the silent era. She started working in films in 1922 after getting trained in plays. Fatma worked with filmmakers like Ardeshir Irani and Nanubhai Desai before founding her own production company Fatma Films which was later rechristened as Victoria-Fatma Films. ‘Bulbul-E-Paristan’ that released in 1926, became the first Indian film to be directed by a female director. However, acting remained on her wish list and she continued to act till late 1930s.”

Ardeshir Irani, who Fatma worked with as an actor, incidentally is the father of Indian talkie films, having made both “Alam Ara” (in Hindi) and “Kalidas” (in Tamil, with songs in Telugu).

We also tried to find an image of Fatma Begum on the web. While we did come across few images, we couldn’t confirm the veracity of any of them. The Whistling Woods (a film school in Mumbai) blog, for instance,  features this picture:

Fatma Begum, India’s first woman film director.

Cineplot Enyclopedia, on the other hand, features this image:

Fatma Begum, India’s first woman film director.

Clearly different people, don’t you think? It is interesting (and worrisome) to note that the internet doesn’t  have a single undisputed image of the first woman director in one of the world’s largest film industries. On days like these, we at TCRC find renewed vigour in our attempt to archive cinema-related artifacts. Have you found other such examples with respect to information about the early days of cinema? Do share them with us by writing to tcrc.india[at]gmail[dot]com.