SACF South Asian Cinema in UK

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Himansu Rai

Himansu Rai with Devika Rani

1892 – 16 May 1940

Indian theatre, film actor from Bengal who qualified as a barrister in London in 1922. The same year, he successfully played the lead male role in Niranjan Pal’s highly successful West End stage play “The Goddess”. Abandoning his legal career, he set up a theatre company, Indian Players and made acting his profession.

In the 1920s, Himansu talked some Indian entrepreneurs India into financing a plan to turn Niranjan Pal’s play, “The Light of Asia” into a silent film. He and Pal also persuaded Emelka Konzern in Munich to undertake the technical work of producing the film, while Rai and Pal agreed to find suitable actors for the film. Thus, the first Indo-German film, The Light of Asia (1925) was made through the collaboration of Lahore’s Great Eastern Film Corporation and Germany’s Emelka Konzern. It was followed by two silent Indo-British films – Shiraz (1928) and A Throw of Dice (1929). Himansu Rai had important roles in all three films. In 1928 – 29, he was invited to express his views on cinema before the Indian Cinematograph Committee.

In the 1920s, Himansu met and married Devika Rani Choudhuri. In 1933, Himansu Rai and Devika starred in Karma (Fate, 1933), the first bilingual talking film that was started in India and completed and launched with much fanfare in the UK. In 1934, Himansu set up Bombay Talkies, a modern and well-equipped film studio with well-educated actors run professionally by qualified technicians of Indian and foreign origin, especially Germans. Bombay Talkies produced some outstanding socially relevant films such as Achchut Kanya (1936) on a story by Niranjan Pal on the theme of untouchability. Himansu’s nervous breakdown and sudden death in 1940 had disastrous consequences. Despite Devika’s efforts to run the company, she was unable to prevent its rapid downward slide and dissolution shortly afterwards.

Filmography (Actor/ Producer)

  • The Light of Asia (1925)
  • Shiraz (1928)
  • A Throw of Dice (1929)
  • Karma (or Fate), 1933
  • Jawani ki Hawa (or Impact of Youth), 1935
  • Jeevan Naya (or Life’s Boat), 1936
  • Janmabhoomi (or Motherland), 1936
  • Achhut Kanya (or Untouchable Girl),1936
  • Savitri (1937)
  • Jeevan Prabhat (or Dawn of Life), 1937
  • Izzat (or Honour), 1937
  • Kangan (or Bangle), 1939

The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)


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