Rajnarayan Dube : Father of Indian Film Industry

Rajnarayan Dube : Father of Indian Film Industry

Rajnarayan Dube : Father of Indian Film Industry

  • Rituraj Ranjan

By Rituraj Ranjan

We all know that Dada Saheb Phalke was the father of Indian cinema but hardly know about Rajnarayan Dube who was the father of Indian film industry. He was a young and dynamic businessman who operated a successful company called Dube Industries, which he had founded in 1929. Dube was born on 10th October 1910 at Kalighat in Kolkata and was an ardent devotee of Maa Kali. He was influenced by the power of art and creativity at a young age.

Rajnarayan Dube was the Pillar of Indian Cinema and founder of legendary film company The Bombay Talkies Studios. He produced 115 films, distributed 259 films, introduced more than 280 talents and financed over 700 films.

The Bombay Talkies Studios, fondly known as Bombay Talkies by many generations of movie fans, was the first Hindi Movie company to be established in Malad, Mumbai (then Bombay) along with Himanshu Rai, Devika Rani, F.E Dinshaw and Sir Firoze Sethna. It played a leading role in establishing the industry that we now celebrate as Bollywood. Its movies were enjoyed by millions over the ages and were the stepping stones to the success of superstars such as Devika Rani, Ashok Kumar, Madhubala, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Mehmood, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar and countless others.

The Bombay Talkies story is full of magic and colour. By 1932, Himanshu Rai was back in India after having been exposed to filmmaking in Europe. His ambition was to bring these new cultural phenomena to the Indian people. This must have been harder than you think, because Himanshu Rai struggled to get this idea off the ground, primarily because of the money involved. He was meeting many people and trying to convince them about the magic of cinema but the effort was proving unsuccessful. He had the complete support of people such as F.E Dinshaw, Sir Feroze Sethna among others but they could not help him when it came to the crucial aspect of financing. In the 30’s, the movie business was supposed to be a ‘dirty business’. Even though movies did make people curious, its reputation as a professional field was bad. There seemed to be a lack of respect for the profession because it was being considered the domain of undesirable sections of the then Indian society. Due to this lack of respect and understanding for the profession, financiers during those times would face an impossible challenge when it came to getting returns on their investment.

It was during this hunt for financiers that Himanshu Rai approached Seth Badriprasad Dube, who was a well-known financier. But Seth Badriprasad refused to finance Himanshu Rai as he considered the profession of fim making dirty. Rai then somehow approached Seth Badri Prasad’s son  Rajnarayan Dube and discussed an initial investment amount of Rs. 25 lakhs. However, Himanshu Rai couldn’t not convince Rajnarayan Dube either. But things have a way of working out in unexpected ways. A few months passed by and Himanshu Rai had grown increasingly despondent because it was becoming impossible to raise investment for his movie company. In his depression, he attempted suicide but was unsuccessful. Rajnarayan  Dube  got wind of this and wondered about this man, one who so completely and wholeheartedly believed in the power of cinema and talking pictures that he did not see it fit to continue living if he couldn’t follow his dreams. Rajnarayan Dube decided that Himanshu Rai was onto something here and finalized the investment with him soon after. In doing this, Rajnarayan Dube went deliberately against the advice of his father, Seth Badriprasad Dube, and gave birth to the Indian Film Industry, which has now gone on to become a huge cultural and financial force in the country.

Rajnarayan Dube founded the Legendary Film Company, The Bombay Talkies Studios along with its associate companies Bombay Talkies Laboratories and Bombay Talkies Pictures as individual proprietorship companies. At the same time to add more people he established the first public limited film company of India The Bombay Talkies Ltd in June 1934, although all companies were commonly known as Bombay Talkies. As Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani were actors they were given some shares of the company as their remuneration. The Bombay Talkies Studios also successfully distributed, processed and promoted films of other producers and banners other than their own films. All the films were financed by Rajnarayan Dube in his individual capacity as the owner of his proprietorship finance company – Dube Industries.

Bombay Talkies was named by Dube’s mother, Shrimati Gayatri Devi and movies like Light of Asia and Karma were released in 1925 and 1933 respectively. It was followed by Jawani ki Hawa, Achhut Kanya and Jeevan Naiya. The movie company operated along a principle of keeping the creative aspects and business aspects separate. Rajnarayan Dube would look into the business end of things and both Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani would immerse themselves in the creative pursuit. This approach gave rise to some of the most technically impressive films seen this side of the planet. The technical prowess was due to the movie studio employing German and other European technicians, prominent among them being Franz Osten.

Bombay Talkies was single handedly responsible of making the careers of some of the leading talent in the golden age of Indian cinema. Besides Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani, the company gave the world Ashok Kumar, Leela Chitnis, Madhubala (who began as a child artist and was given her stage name by Rajnarayan Dube himself), Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Mehmood, Kishore Kumar, Kamal Amrohi, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Sashadhar Mukherjee, Lata Mangeshkar, Satyajit Ray, Amiya Chakravarti, S. D. Burman, Manna Dey, Saraswati Devi (who was the first woman music director in Asia) and many more. All in all, Bombay Talkies gave the world 280 of the most talented movie professionals in the last century. While Himanshu Rai’s original vision for a movie production house sowed the seeds for the formation of Indian cinema as an industry, Rajnarayan Dube single-handedly architected the business angle of the entire industry which was yet to come. He also supported various new ventures such as BN Sircar’s New Theatres in Calcutta, V Shantaram’s Prabhat Pictures, Homi Wadia’s Wadia Movietone, Sohrab Modi’s Minerva Movietone, LV Prasad’s Prasad Labs and Pictures (Prasadwas an ex-technician from Bombay Talkies), SM Vasan’s Gemini Pictures and Mehboob Khan’s theatres. Dube financed these fledgling companies and made them stronger. In essence, he built the entire movie ecosystem in the country. Everyone whom Dube supported went on to build a name for themselves in the industry.

Rajnarayan Dube had a big vision for Indian Cinema. He wanted Indian filmmaking to be a respectable profession. He thus stipulated that Bombay Talkies would only hire graduates. He hoped this move would legitimise the Indian film industry of the thirties and forties, and it certainly did. Besides this, Dube also wanted the Indian film industry to be inclusive of Indians from all states and sectors of life. He also helped grow the regional film industry. He staunchly supported Marathi, Hindi, Bengali and Southern cinema. It is noteworthy that he financed the first Bhojpuri film “Ganga Maiyya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo” too in 1962.  It is due to Dube that Bollywood today is big enough to compete with Hollywood movies.

Even though the movie company worked with European technicians, Dube would bring on Indian technicians and make sure that they learnt the art of moviemaking. He also brought a lot of Indian writers on-board so that movies could have an Indian cultural sensitivity and thus could appeal to a large amount of people. This move gave rise to a whole new Indian profession, movie making. This seemed to be a good move in the light of circumstances that were yet to arrive.

During one scene in the movie Karma, there was a minute long kissing scene between Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani onscreen. This caused quite a stir in Indian society then Seth Badriprasad Dube father of Shri. Rajnarayan Dube was furious about the scene. Himanshu Rai apologized and promised that it would not happen again. After that incident Dube however, resolved to screen all films by himself before they could be released. He was a Brahmin and a conservative and strictly discouraged smoking, drinking and other vices in the studio premises. He was also a very caring employer for those pioneering people who worked at Bombay Talkies. He made sure that Education, Rent, Food and other daily necessities were provided free of cost to employees of Bombay Talkies. He also championed the rights of the movie industry by setting up Unions and Associations such as IMPPA (of which Bombay Talkies was the first member).

During the Second World War, Bombay Talkies was struggling. The war had made things very difficult in many ways. The company had several movies on the floor but they could not get them finished because the crucial German technicians had been arrested and detained by the British Government. At this point, 15-20 films were on the production floor and were stalled pretty badly. Himanshu Rai suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of this and passed away in 1940. Bombay Talkies had just lost its crucial soldier on whose vision the entire company stood to be successful. Rajnarayan Dube decided that Rai’s vision for Indian cinema would continue and he again invested four lakh ten thousand rupees into the venture. This injected some much needed blood into the company and a new era of Indian film making began. Dube decided that from that moment on, Bombay Talkies would only hire Indian technicians and production professionals. In this second phase, the company boomed and went on to a very productive cinematic run. The 1943 hit Kismet was getting rave reviews everywhere and managed to run in theatres for 3 and half years in over 90% of the Indian theatres.  By comparing the value of gold and land by today’s standards, the movie made the equivalent of Rs. 34000 crores. Not one movie has broken this record in terms of business. By 1954, Bombay Talkies had put its name to a huge amount of work. It had produced 115 films, had introduced over 280 new talents, built 400 theatres across the country. With the historical grand success of Bombay Talkies, the legendary film company under the influence of Rajnarayan Dube had now processed more than 450 films of outside and likeminded producers and made more than 250 film projects for the new and needy producers.

As the success of Bombay Talkies was going sky-high the clash of ego between the giants also started roaring high.  Instead of being devoted to film making and cinema they devoted their energy and talent for spreading rumours and objectionable stories. At this time Rajnarayan Dube decided to shut down his sole proprietorship companies The Bombay Talkies Studios, Bombay Talkies Laboratories and Bombay Talkies Pictures in 1954 so that he could pay more attention to other aspects of his business and continued to distribute and finance in films. The fate of the limited company The Bombay talkies Ltd., which was established to include more people and more talents, got entrapped in selfish motives and litigations. Among all odds and misfortune, of the passed time Bombay Talkies became a dream only to be in memories, the artists and technicians, whom Bombay Talkies made living legends in their own lives, who became national and international personalities by virtue of their own right, became world famous. But there was no one to take notice of Bombay Talkies.

Time cycle never stops. It is said that the third generation repeats itself. After a long interval of six decades, Girish Ghanshyam Dube, the grandson of Rajnarayan Dube, took the historic task to bring out Bombay Talkies from the darkness of history on his  shoulders. He has started his new battle to re-establish and enrich his great legacy for the present and future generations of meaningful, thought provoking cinema people. As a result The Bombay Talkies Studios, Bombay Talkies Gharana, Bombay Talkies Laboratories and Bombay Talkies Pictures in association with the nationalistic organization Azad Army & Vishwa Sahitya Parishad made a splendid come back under the command of Aazaad, who is a military school student, researcher and thinker who received enormous appreciation from the audience after the magnificent triumph after release of the film “Rashtraputra (Hindi)” on 2nd November 2018 worldwide which was written, directed and acted by Aazaad and is based on the greatest revolutionary and Indian freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad.
Needless to say that with the establishment and work culture of Bombay Talkies, Rajnarayan Dube played a great historic role in nurturing and developing Indian film industry. He gave it the form of an organized industry and made it to be accepted as a respectful form of art by the civilized society. If Mr. Rajnarayan Dube was not there, there would be no Himanshu Rai, neither Devika Rani nor there would be Bombay Talkies.

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