“Elphinstone Elphinstone Everywhere”: The story of Elphinstone Theatre in Madras, the first with a balcony!

The Indian Express carried a PTI (Press Trust of India) story yesterday about tent cinemas returning to Delhi as a part of the ongoing “100 years of cinema” celebrations. We found a couple of paragraphs at the end of the story rather interesting (click here to read the entire piece):

In India, among the pioneers of tent cinema, the most important name is that of J F Madan, a Parsi businessman who started ‘Elphinstone Bioscope Company’ in early 20th century in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and would do tent shows in the Maidan there. He later started the cinema halls by the name of ‘Elphinstone Picture Palaces’.

His ‘Elphinstone’ was also one of the few Indian companies, among other European production houses, which filmed the historic 1911 Delhi Durbar attended by King George V and Queen Mary.

His legend has survived today in the form of various ‘Elphinstone’ theatres spread across India.”

Now, we were aware that a New Elphinstone Theatre was operational up till sometime in the 1970s, off Mount Road. So, we did some searching and it turns out that there was indeed an Elphinstone in Madras as well. Manish Raj, writing for the Times of India, mentions the cinema hall in his piece of theatres in Madras of the yore (click here to read his entire story):

New Elphinstone Theatre in 1916 was inaugurated by the governor general of Madras and it was one of the first theatres in India to raise funds for the World War I through its shows. It housed the most unusual indoor sport — a boxing ring where amateurs sparred. When the film bubble burst, it later became Elphinstone Soda fountain, which sold beverages.

Given that there was a New Elphinstone, we realised that an Old Elphinstone had to be a part of this history. Historian S Muthiah, in his lovely piece titled “Cinema at Round Tana”, fills the gaps:

A New Elphinstone meant there had to be an old Elphinstone – and there was one, rooted in almost the beginnings of cinema-screening in Madras. The Elphinstone was located across Round Tana from the New Elphinstone on the site of Misquith Building, just west of the old Hindu building at the junction of Ellis Road and Wallajah Road. (Wallace) Misquith & Co., established in 1842 built itself a magnificent brick-exposed Indo-Saracenic building to house on the ground floor its showroom for musical instruments and, on the first floor, music salons which could be rented by the hour for anyone wanting to play any instrument.In time, Misquith’s’ became Musee Musicals and moved further down Mount Road, but in its heyday it housed the Lyric, a hall of entertainment that a man named Cohen established on the first floor when he took over Misquith’s in 1907.

In 1913, the Lyric began screening films, calling itself the Empire Cinema, but a fire in March 1914 closed it down. Later that year, J F Madan of Calcutta, owner of India’s biggest cinema chain at the time, took over the Empire and renamed it with that of his flagship, the Elphinstone. In 1915, Madan bought the Misquith Building and made the Elphinstone a permanent cinema theatre, the biggest and the first with a balcony in Madras.

Given that Dadasaheb Phalke’s “Raja Harishchandra,” the first feature length Indian film was released at around the same time that Empire Cinema was started (1913), we at TCRC were thrilled to find the various strands of our cinematic history crisscrossing. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find a single image or photographs of the Elphinstone Theatre and this only served to remind us of the importance of archiving  images of our cinemas’ golden past. Interested in helping this sort of archival effort? Volunteer at TCRC!

Shamshad Begum & The Original ‘Katiya Karoon’!

We at TCRC were deeply saddened to hear about the demise of Shamshad Begum, one of the earliest playback singers in the Hindi film industry. She was 94, only half a dozen years younger than Indian cinema itself (if we go by the release of “Raja Hairshchandra” as the beginning). Along the way, Shamshad Begum has given us some of the most evergreen melodies in Indian film music, including hits such as “Kabhi Aar Kabhi Paar” and “Kajra Mohabbatwala” for composer OP Nayyar, and “Mera Piya  Gaye Rangoon” for music director C Ramanchandra.

Shamshad Begum. Photo Courtesy: Hindustan Times

A Padma Bhushan awardee, Shamshad (which means “graceful” in Persian) Begum recorded her first song, a Punjabi number, in the 1930s. And it is another Punjabi number that we at TCRC are bringing to you today, as a tribute to this doyenne. In the 1963-released, black-and-white Punjabi movie “Pind Di Kurhi” directed by Baldev R Jhingan, Shamshad Begum had sung a version of “Katiya Karoon,” the folk number which was recently adapted in Imitiaz Ali’s “Rockstar” starring Ranbir Kapoor. While the new “Katiya Karoon” was composed by AR Rahman, the original version delivered by Shamshad Begum was composed by Hansraj Behl and was picturized on actress Nishi. Watch and enjoy!

Kamal Hassan, The Singer: “Paneer Pushpangale” in “Aval Appadithan” (Tamil, 1978)

We at TCRC have a large number of still photographs shot during the production of various films that have been made by Tamil filmmakers across the years. We are in the process of digitizing, sorting and cataloguing them. One of the films for which most of this work has been completed is C Rudhraiya’s “Aval Appadithan” starring Kamal Hassan, Rajnikanth, Sripriya and Saritha. In fact, the header image that you see at the top of this page is a production photograph from “Aval Appadithan,” which was released in 1978.

The movie, praised by many for being far ahead of its times in terms of both treatment and technique, had numerous English dialogues and frequently employed jump cuts (two or more shots taken from only slightly different angles being placed sequentially, so as to communicate the passing of time in an abrupt manner). Shot in black and white, “Aval Appadithan” had only three songs, all of which were composed by Ilaiyaraaja.

One of the songs, titled “Paneer Pushpangale,” was written by Gangai Amaren and was sung by Kamal Hassan himself. Now, we’re used to Kamal singing his own songs. But it’s quite refreshing to hear Kamal croon a ‘Raaja Sir’ (as Ilaiyaraaja is known in the Tamil film industry) number from that era. In fact, when we heard the song for first time, we couldn’t even identify Kamal’s voice. Check it for yourself. Here is “Paneer Pushpangale” from “Aval Appadithan”:

Ray’s 21st Death Anniversary: Revisiting ABP’s “No Ads, Please!” Tribute & The Films That Ray Would’ve Liked To Make

On 23rd April 1992, Satyajit Ray, one of India’s most celebrated personalities from the world of cinema, passed away in Calcutta. Twenty one years later, we at TCRC revisit some material on the illustrious life of the iconic Bengali filmmaker.

Satyajit Ray's funeral. Photo from the newspaper Anandabazar Patrika dated 24th April 1992.  Photography by Tarapada Bandopadhyay. Courtesy: Riddhi Goswami (found on the Facebook page "FeludaSeries"

Satyajit Ray’s funeral. Photo from the newspaper Anandabazar Patrika dated 24th April 1992. Photograph shot by Tarapada Bandopadhyay. Reproduction Courtesy: Riddhi Goswami (found on the Facebook page “FeludaSeries”)

The New York Times published a glowing obituary of Ray, the day after his demise (click here to read the entire obit).  The obituary, penned by Peter Flint, recounts how a three-member Oscar committee visited him at Belle Vue Hospital in Calcutta, a month before his death, to present him with the golden statuette for lifetime achievement in cinema. The presentation of the Oscar was filmed and his acceptance speech was screened two weeks later at the Oscars ceremony at the end of March that year.

The NYT obit also showcases a quote from Ray (given below), which beautifully captures how the auteur’s approach to mise-en-scene:

You had to find out yourself how to catch the hushed stillness of dusk in a Bengali village,” he said, “when the wind drops and turns the ponds into sheets of glass dappled by the leaves of the trees, and the smoke from ovens settles in wispy trails over the landscape, and the plaintive blows on conch shells from homes far and wide are joined by the chorus of crickets, which rises as the light falls, until all one sees are the stars in the sky, and the stars blink and swirl in the thickets.”

Interestingly, the Bengali newspaper Anandabazar Patrika didn’t carry a single advertisement on the day after Ray’s death as a mark of respect to the master filmmaker. Well, from where we see it, very few filmmakers today would even be considered worthy of such a tribute and fewer media outlets would be willing to pay such a tribute!

We also loved Dilip Basu’s biography of Ray for the Satyajit Ray Film and Study Center at the University of Southern California, Santa Cruz. Here’s an excerpt (click here to read the entire biography):

How he managed to make the film, pawning his rare music albums, his wife Bijoya’s jewelry and his mother, Suprabha’s networking in the Government circles in Calcutta, has now become a by-word in the annals of Indian film history. It also provides a paradigm on the “modes of production” in the kind of world cinema that stubbornly refuses to kowtow to commercial pressure. The paradigm required a perennial search for the elusive producer; an essential routine of most of Ray’s movie-making career. If he had access to funds for the kind of films he wanted to make on his fiercely independent and nonnegotiable artistic terms, the world would have seen more diversity and many more period pieces in Ray’s oeuvre: films based on ancient epics, the Mughals and the British Colonials. Instead, he limited himself to what was locally available and possible, refusing to stop or give in to commercial presuures. By 1992, the year he passed on, he had made forty films including shorts and documentaries. Some of these are all-time classics, great and near-great films. Unlike his illustrious contemporaries Antonioni, Bergman, Fellini and Kurosawa, for example he never made a film that can qualify as “bad” from the filmmaker’s standpoint.”

RARE: Original LP of Sivaji Ganesan’s “Gauravam” (1973), in which he plays a character called Rajnikanth!

This week, we bring from you yet another gem from the TCRC archives. Given that the Prakash Raj-produced, Radha Mohan-directed “Gouravam” has just released, we thought it would be fun to revisit the original “Gauravam” starring Sivaji Ganesan, Nagesh and ‘Major’ Sundarrajan, which was released in 1973. Interestingly, in the old “Gauravam,” Sivaji plays the role of Rajnikanth, a senior lawyer. When seen against that fact that superstar Rajnikanth’s original name is Shivaji (Shivaji Rao Gaikwad), the nomenclature system seems to come fulls circle! Given below is the photograph of the original LP set of Sivaji Ganesan’s “Gauravam”:

"Gauravam"  |  LP Record  |  Tamil  |  1973

“Gauravam” | LP Record | Tamil | 1973

“Gauravam” was directed by ‘Vietnam Veedu’ Sundaram and the music was scored by MS Vishwanathan. “Vietnam Veedu” was Sundaram’s first  stage play for Sivaji Ganesan’s theatre company Sivaji Nataka Mandram. The play was staged for the first time in 1965 and was a massive hit. It was later turned into a movie as well.