Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Hooray for Bollywood article reprinted

Hooray for Bollywood:

About Joseph David, the Bene Israel Jew who wrote and produced the first talkie in Bollywood.                           

India has a thriving film industry. For example, Bengal (the home of Satyajit Ray's famous films, such as the trilogy starting with The World of Apu); South India, especially Kerala; Maharashtra State, Rajasthan and the Punjab all have their own large, thriving film industries. Bollywood, however is the best-known aspect of it in the West, and seems to be the most popular among the Indian expatriate community.

Bollywood is centred in Bombay, or as it now is, Mumbai, (perhaps now it should be called Mollywood,) and churns out about 800 films a year in 12 languages. Financed by interest rates of 40 to 60 percent and with a dozen-odd studios working round the clock, producing several films at any one time, all in the same studios, as well as some of the stars working on up to ten films simultaneously, ''churn'' seems to be the operative word. Clearly it is not a place for painstaking method-actors or -actresses.

In the first talkie in Hollywood, a Jew, Al Jolson, merely starred in it, but in the Indian film industry's first talkie, Joseph David (DE’s grandfather), wrote the story, the music and co-produced it.

The film Alam Ara is a swashbuckling tale about a power-struggle between two queens of an ageing king, and the daughter of an imprisoned loyal general, the Alam Ara of the title. It was based on Joseph David's popular play written in Persian, and performed by his Parsee Theatrical Theatre Company and produced by Wadia Movietone. According to The Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema, "Alam Ara established the use of music, song and dance as the mainstay of Indian cinema."

He went on to write and co-produce many other films for Wadia Movietone, including a series of  stunt movies, the first being Hunterwali, (The Lady with the Whip), about a super-heroine, the Indian equivalent of the superheroes and heroines, such as Batman and Wonder-woman in Western cinema. Incidentally the leading lady in these films was a Jewess from the Ukraine, called Nadia. The Jewish connection does not end there. The Bombay Film Laboratories, which processed most of the films made in Bombay at that time, was started by a Jewish solicitor called Moses Solomon who happened to be the grandfather of another of our contributors, Sophie Jhirard.

Alam Ara had an interesting brush with history. An actor called Master Vithal was the leading man. The studio that he left to join Wadia Movietone, Sharda Studio, sued him for breach of contract. The lawyer who successfully defended him was Mohamed Ali Jinnah, the founder and first president of Pakistan.

A moving tribute was written by J.B.H.Wadia, one of the Wadia brothers who owned and ran Wadia Movietone which appeared in the Times of India in 1966. He pointed out that it was due to David Joseph’s extreme modesty (not an asset in this industry) that he did not receive the full recognition for his pioneering work and for his importance in the Indian film industry. -- Anthony Kerstein & Danny Ezekiel

This article was first published online at:
Many thanks to Anthony Kerstein, Henry Gee, and my father, Danny.

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