Sir Richard Attenborough on working with Satyajit Ray in “Shatranj Ke Khilari”: Old DD Bangla interview

Today is master filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s 92nd birthday and Google’s paid a lovely tribute through a doodle based on his film “Pather Panchali.” For those who missed it, here’s what the doodle is all about:

Google doodle on the occasion of Satyajit Ray’s 92nd birthday (2nd May 2013).

We at TCRC also chanced upon a YouTube video of an old show on DD Bangla where Sir Richard Attenborough, director of “Gandhi,” talks about the experience of working with Ray on “Shatranj Ke Khilari.” The film, released in 1977, was based on Munshi Premchand’s short story of the same name and was narrated by  Amitabh Bachchan. The cast included actors such as Sanjeev Kumar, Saeed Jaffrey, Shabana Azmi, Farida Jalal, Amjad Khan, Richard Attenborough, Victor Banerjee, Farooq Shaikh and Tom Alter. Do look out for Sir Attenborough’s views on cinema as an art form and Ray’s soundbites!

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.

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.

JC Daniel: Father of Malayalam Cinema

We at TCRC are always scouring the internet for interesting material on the origins of the regional cinemas of South India. And the internet never ceases to surprise us. Recently, we chanced upon CinemaofMalayalam.net, a website that had a separate page on JC Daniel, the man who wrote, directed and produced the first ever Malayalam feature film.

The movie, titled “Vigathakumaran,” was a silent film and was released in November 1928. In fact, the Kerala state government’s award for lifetime achievement in Malayalam cinema is called the JC Daniel Award, recognizing his efforts in starting up what is today one of India’s most interesting film industries. Interestingly, Daniel was a dentist who showed keen interest in martial arts. He is said to have been an expert at Kalarippayattu and is reported to have written a book about Indian martial arts in English before he ventured into cinema.

English: A short note on Vigathakumaran

A still from “Vigathakumaran,” the first ever Malayalam feature film (released in 1928). Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Given below is a Malayalam documentary on the life of the director JC Daniel.

There has also been quite a bit of controversy over when “Vigathakumaran” was released. While many acknowledge it to be 1928 (including those such as noted Malayalam film journalist Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan and Yves Thoraval, author of “The Cinemas of India”), a photocopied version of a handbill announcing the release of “Vigathakumaran” in 1930 by producers Travancore National Pictures has been circulating on the internet of late, an artifact whose source is yet to be confirmed. Blogger CineMatters has written a detailed post about the 1928 v/s 1930 controversy here for the blog Old Malayalam Cinema. However, there is no dispute over the fact that “Vigathakumaran” by JC Daniel was the first ever Malayalam feature film.

TCRC has, in its archives, memorabilia from various Malayalam films that have been released over the years. Seeing this page on JC Daniel compelled us to revisit some of the old material and we’re working on the digitization of the same. So, do revisit the TCRC blog for updates.

SS Vasan’s “Chandralekha” | The First Attempt To Get Nationwide Distribution

“Chandralekha”, a Tamil film directed by SS Vasan, was released by Gemini Studios in 1948. Starring MK Radha, TR Rajakumari, Ranjan and NS Krishnan, the film was made at a then-lavish budget of more than Rs.30 lakhs and was considered to be one of the most expensive films of that time. It was also one of the first Madras productions to become an all-India hit. It is said to have released in 609 screens worldwide. The drum-dance sequence featured here was one of the highlights of the movie, leading up to one of the longest sword-fighting sequences in Indian cinema.

We at TCRC are proud to to have, in our archive, memorabilia from films of that era.