The Bengali Film Aadur Prem – a love story between a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy based on a story by Swapnamoy Chakraborty directed by Somnath Gupta is bringing back THE NEW THEATRES back to film production after a long period of silence. Exclusive first look into the film and a brief refresher on New Theatres.
THE NEW THEATRES ELEPHANT HOOTS AGAIN
Shoma A. Chatterji
The logo of New Theatres is an elephant trapped within a circle with the words “Jivatang Jyotiretu Chhayam” still archived in the memories of people who hum K.L. Saigal numbers from Devdas. Translated into English, the words in the logo mean, “Light infusing shadows with life.” New Theatres marked the entry of some of the greatest talents in the history of Indian cinema. From Prithviraj Kapoor to Bimal Roy, from Pankaj Mullick to Kanan Devi, from Pramathesh Barua, Hem Chandra, Kartick Chatterjee to Phani Majumdar, Debaki Kumar Bose and Nitin Bose, they all made their entry into cinema through New Theatres. Music, always a strong point with New Theatres, reached a high degree of excellence because of the aesthetic blend of composers, singers and lyricists. Along with composers like R.C. Boral, Pankaj Mullick and Timir Baran, there were singing stars like Kanan Devi, K.L.Saigal, Pahari Sanyal and Asit Baran. New Theatres also claims the credit for introducing the technology of playback songs in cinema through Bhagya Chakra in 1935. The New Theatres logo came to be regarded as the hallmark of quality, and the elephant is fondly remembered even today.
B.N.Sircar identified himself with the best in Indian cinema from its ‘silent’ days right through the forties and fifties B.N. Sircar was the second son of Sir N.N. Sircar, Advocate General of undivided Bengal and a member of the Viceroy’s council. After getting a degree in civil engineering from London University, Sircar returned with dreams of setting up his own business in civil construction. One day, he happened to chance upon a long queue outside Crown theatre in the southern parts of Calcutta, which now has a different name. Intrigued by the long queue, he stopped to ask what these people were waiting for. They were waiting to buy tickets for the film being screened in the theatre, he was told. He was amazed at the prospect of this business where people were willing to shell out money without seeing the quality of the product or even knowing how useful it would be for them. That sowed the seeds of getting into film production. New Theatres was born spanning a large tract of land off Tollygunje, in the southern extremes of Calcutta. Over the years, it had a lovely garden filled with mango trees, flowers and a “Gol Ghar” in the centre.
The unique selling point of a New Theatres production was – (a) a solid storyline, preferably picked from Bengali literature, (b) lilting songs and background music, (c) sound technique, and (d) good acting. Sircar never interfered with the film while it was under production. After each film was complete, he would watch it at a morning screening at New Cinema in Calcutta. Among the 150 films under the New Theatres banner made in several languages over a span of 24 years (1931-1955), it would be difficult to sift the wheat from the chaff and say – these are the best. From Doctor (1940) to Pratisruti (1941) to Udayer Pathey (1944) to Anjan Garh (1948), from Puran Bhakt (Hindi – 1933) to Vidyapati (Hindi-1938) to Devdas (Bengali – 1935) to Mukti (1937), every New Theatres film defines a distinct identity for itself, remembered for different reasons to this day.
The elephant has remained silent for more than 50 years now. The Partition of India in 1947 overnight took away a large part of the market in what is now Bangladesh and Pakistan. Added to this were the communal riots between 1946 and 1947 that affected revenues in a big way and the elephant was forced to become silent after the last production Bakul in 1955. But it has waved out its trunk and hooted once again with its new feature film Aadur Prem based on a love story between a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy based on a story by Swapnamoy Chakraborty. Somnath Gupta, who had earlier directed a good part of the documentary on New Theatres, is directing Aadur Prem. Arghya Kamal Mitra will edit the film and Soumik Haldar is DOP. The shooting of the film was completed extensively on locations in Murshidabad in October-November this year.
Aadu (Ratna) is the adored daughter of the Bhattacharya family who live in the village of Amodiya in Murshidabad. Though they are Brahmins, Aadu’s father has taken up the work of an iron monger who crafts axes and shovels to eke out a livelihood. Aadu unwittingly falls in love with Solemaan, or Chhalu as he is better known by. He is a Muslim boy from a neighbouring village. Chhalu’s father Moinuddin is a casual farmer who works on the farm on a day-to-day basis. Overcoming the obstacles of the family for communal differences, Chhaalu and and Aadu get married and settle down to a peaceful life. Soleman is determined to raise his income. Following the example of two neighbourhood friends, he goes to Iraq and lands a job there. Days for Moinuddin’s family are bright and sunny.
The war in Iraq soon changes things for everyone. The family loses track of Chhalu and his whereabouts. The money stops coming and both families face great distress. Moinuddin goes back to his farm work and Chhalu’s sister Amina gets back to her sewing machine. The families of Moinuddin and Bhattacharya are shocked to discover three young men having vanished without trace. The flow of the story changes to show how the two communities of the village come together to share their sad days of plight and build bridges to solve their problems in a peaceful and harmonious way, wiping away barriers of faith, religion, communal beliefs, superstition and tradition. It is also the saga of the helpless young village housewife Aadu and how she confronts the twists and turns in the drama of her life.
Over a span of 24 years (1931-1955) New Theatres has produced 150 films shot in its own studios at Tollygunge in Kolkata founded on February 10, 1931. One hopes that with the release of Aadur Prem, the jinx on New Theatres will be lifted and the elephant will hoot again.