Whenever we talk about Indian movies of the Golden Era, it always evokes deep sentiments among those who grew up looking at those movies. I hope as you read through these few lines it would bring back hidden memories of a bygone but not forgotten era. In addition, many of us remember that great filmi (monthly) publication “Filmindia” which filmi fans eagerly looked forward to reading. In this article I look briefly at some movies of the Golden era and the part the local filmi magazine “Filmindia” played in promoting such Indian movies.
The first Indian movie shown in Trinidad was Bala Joban. It was brought to the country by Ranjit Kumar and Sayed Mohammed Hussain in 1935. All Indian films released in Trinidad, up to the late 1950s were in black and white. In India after Mehaboob Khan’s opus magnum color movie Mother India, (1957) there was a definite shift to color film and by the 1970s, the transition to color films in Indian movies was almost complete.
After the release of Bala Joban in Trinidad there followed movies such as Bharat ki Beti (1935, India’s Daughter), Achut Kanya (1936, The Untouchable Girl) and other movies such as Toofan Mail (1934), Devdas (1936), Pukar (1939, The Call), Hunter Wali (1935, Hunter with a Whip) Noor-E-Yaman (1935) and Veer Ka Badla (1935, Vengeance is Mine). These movies with popular stars of the era such as Devika Rani, Rattan Bai, Ashok Kumar, Fearless Nadia (Mary Evans), Naseen Banu (mother of Saira Banu), Shorab Modi, Durga Khote, Shanta Apte, Zubeida, Ashok Kumar, Kanan Devi, Pahari Sanyal, K.L Saighal, K C Dey, Uma Devi and Kedar Sharma received tremendous support from the East Indian community and paved the way for the importation of other Indian movies.
In the decade of the 1940s movies such as Kismet (1943, Fate), Hamari Betiyaan (1936, Our Darling Daughters), Matlabi (1948, Selfish Man), Bhakta Prahalad (1946, Devout Prahalad), and Tansen were released locally and were very popular among fans. Some of the other top Indian film releases of that era in Trinidad included Rattan (1944) Vijay Kumar ( 1940), Kiran (1944)[Ray], Jwar Bhata(1944)[ High and Low Tides], Shaheed (1948) [ The Martyr], Barsaat (1949)[Rain], Mahal (The Mansion), Andaz (1949)[ The Gesture] Shikari (1946) [The Hunter}, Dr.Kotnis ki Amar Kahani (1946) [The Immortal Story of Dr. Kotnis ], Sandesa (1940) [The Message], Ram Rajya (1943) [Reign of Lord Rama], Punar Milan (1940) [The Reunion).At that time, stars such as Ashok Kumar, Devika Rani, Prithviraj Kapoor, Nargis, Dilip Kumar, Nimmi, and Raj Kapoor dominated the industry.
However, it was the 1950s, with the start of the Golden Era (1949-1969) of Indian cinema that saw some of the finest Indian movies released in Trinidad. Many of those movies are still spoken of lovingly and adoringly by local Indian movie fans of that period. Many people recall the Golden Era (fifties and the sixties) of Indian films as the best and most beautiful of any period of Indian movies in this country. Some of the movies that stood out locally in that decade were Awara (1951, The Vagabond ), Mother India, Shri 420 (1955, Mister 420), Mela, Bhagwat Mahima and Do Bigha Zameen. Other popular movies of this period in Trinidad included Aan (1952) [Savage Princess], Sindoor (1949) [Vermilion] Deedar (1951) [The Meeting], Jagriti (1954) [The Awakening], and Har Har Mahadev (1957) [Hail Lord Shiva]. Bugunah (1958) [ The Innocent]; Babul ( 1950 ) [Father ] Miss Mary (1957) ,Mere Sanam ( 1965 ) [My Beloved ], Sati Anasuya (1957) [ Saint Anasuya], Nau Raatri (1955) [ Nine Nights], Hatim Tai ( 1956) [ Hatim of Tai], Lakshmi Pooja (1957) [The Worship of Goddess Laxmi ]. The popularity of stars such as Raj Kapoor, Sunil Dutt, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand,Kishore Kumar, Guru Dutt, Manoj Kumar, Devika Rani, Suraya, Viyanti -mala, Mala Sinha, Nutan, Rajendra Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, Sadhna, Jeetendra, Mumtaz, Asha Parekh, Bharat Bhushan, Pradeep Kumar, Ashok Kumar, and Rajishree. Coupled with the versatility of playback singers such as Hemant Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Mahendra Kapoor, Soriya, Mukesh, Noor Jahan, Geeta Dutt and Suman Kalyanpur and music directors such as Lakshmikant Pyarilal, Shankar – Jaikishan, S. D. Burman and Hemant Kumar, they all helped to create a magical mass appeal for the local filmi audience that was unprecedented in the history of Indian cinema in Trinidad. Through the local mike men and the later local radio stations the songs were released in the country months before the movie was shown, helping to create the desire among Indian movie fans to see the movie.
The great movies of the 1950s received rigid competition from the movies of the 1960s as producers sought to satisfy the audience’s penchant for romantic musical type movies. During the second part of the great Golden Era of Indian cinema, movies such as Mughal-E-Azam (1960) (Emperor of the Mughals), Guide (1965), Aradhana, Dosti, Upkaar, Padosan, Bandini, and Hamraaz (1967, My Secret) were released on the silver screen in Trinidad. Some of the other great movies of that period included Arzoo ( 1965, Desire ), Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon (1963 ) [ It’s the Same Heart Again], Kashmir ki kali ( 1964 ) [The Girl from Kashmir] , Paigam ( 1959 ) [ The Message ], Bhakta Raj ( 1960 )[The Kingdom], Solva Saal ( 1958 ) [Sixteenth Year ], Neel Mani ( 1957 ) [The Blue Diamond ], Do Phool ( 1958) [Two Flowers] , Chota Bhai ( 1966 ) [Younger Brother], Waqt (1965) [Time ],Sangam( 1964) [ the Union ],Daag ( 1973) [The Stain],Mere Bhaabi ( 1969) [ My Sister-in law], Do Badan ( 1966) [Two Bodies], Mohabaat Zandagi hai ( 1966 ) [Love is Life ], Dadi Maa ( 1966 ) [Grandmother], Pooja ki Phool (1964)[ Flowers of Devotion ], Hamrahi ( 1963 ) [The Companion ], Milan ( 1964 ) [ Union ], Shikar (1968 ) [Hunter ], Aayee Milan Ki Bela ( 1964 ) [The Time has Come to Unite, ],Baiju Bawra (1952 ) [Baiju, The Poet ],Sasural ( 1961 ) [The In-Laws ], Mere Mehaboob ( 1963 ) [My Beloved], Harishchandra Taramati ( 1963 ) [Harishchandra and Taramati],Teesri Manzil (1966) [The Third Floor], Anarkali ( 1966 ) [Love of a Moghul Prince],Ek Phool Do Mali (1969) [One Flower, Two Gardeners]. Some of the popular stars of the time were Rajendra Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, Sharmilla Tagore, Asha Parekh, Vijayanthimala, Jitendra, Saadhna, Raj Kapoor, Balraj Sahani, Rajesh Khanna, Manoj Kumar and Dharmendra.
This era may be considered as belonging to the great playback singers of the silver screen. Without those playback singers, it is difficult to conceive of any successful Hindi film during that period that did not achieve success because of its songs and music. Almost every film released in Trinidad during that period contained songs that became popular with the audience and contributed to the financial success of the film.
As the popularity of Indian movies grew in Trinidad, there arose the need among its fan base to know more about the movies, about the stars, the Indian cinema industry, its producers, singers, songs and other aspects of life connected to the Indian film industry. Local cinema fans hungered for information about their favorite hero or heroine, their trials and tribulations, their love lives, their everyday living and any available gossip.
The private and screen lives of English stars were part of the everyday gossip or conversation of English cinema fans everywhere in Trinidad due to the coverage by local media, but the newspapers very rarely printed stories about Indian movie stars or the Indian movie industry and until the 1950s there were no magazines available locally about the Indian film industry. To satisfy that need, magazines, posters, pictures, song copies and other Indian movie paraphernalia were gradually introduced into the local market.
From the earliest days of Indian movies, cinema fans fell in love with the songs and music associated with Indian movies. They could be found humming and singing those songs almost everywhere and at every opportunity that was presented including the cooking night. In many cases, however, East Indians did not know the correct words of the songs but they sang them anyway. This triggered the need to acquire authentic song copies of their favorite songs that they had heard at the movies, on the mike and on the radio. During the 1950s, Kamaluddin Mohammed printed copies of Indian film songs and distributed them at his Windsor Shop on Queen Street, Port-of-Spain. Then later when his brother, Sham Mohammed, took over the operations at the same location, he also sold song copies at the store.Additionally, the tremendous popularity of Indian movies in the 1950s and 1960s resulted in record shops such as Balroop’s Record Shop in Arouca and Razack’s Indian Records in San Juan printing and selling lyrics of songs from Indian movies, which they obtained from the public relations literature that accompanied Indian movies that were released in the country. Lovers of Indian music traveled long distances to purchase copies of their favorite songs at those outlets. The cost of traveling to the record shop was much more than the cost of a written song copy so whenever patrons went to these outlets they bought as many copies as possible for themselves and friends.
Many of the “popular” songs (lyrics) that people loved were also bought from individuals that copied and sold them in the open market. Shakuntala Parray recalled that in the late 1940s and early 1950s her brother collected song lyrics from publicity books that came with Indian movies and compiled them into little booklets, which he sold for five cents at the market in San Fernando. They were all sold out each time. Later as the demand grew, he increased his price to ten cents. Parray related that her brother got the songs from the booklets that were brought into the country to promote the movies. She spent long hours typing them for her brother and each copy sold was individually typed since there were no photocopying facilities available at the time. In addition, he periodically packaged and sold back issues of popular movie songs and they were all sold out because of the need for such filmi paraphernalia among Indian movie fans in the country. In other instances Parray,who incidentally was the typist for her brother’s entrepreneurial forage into the filmi industry, indicated that her brother compiled special editions of popular songs from earlier movies for his clients who were very happy to avail themselves of such compilations.[i] With the advent of the Filmindiamagazine in the late 1950s, some song copies were readily available through this medium but only the latest songs were usually available since the movies being released were promoted through the magazines. Today Indian movie songbooks produced in India are available locally in stores with compilations of songs of Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Mukesh and Kishore Kumar.[ii]
This need of the average Indian movie fan in Trinidad to obtain the songs and other information about Indian movies and the stars associated with Bollywood continues unabated today, except that in this technologically global village such information is readily available on the internet at the click of a mouse.
The first Indian filmi magazine distributed in Trinidad was a local production called Filmindia, which was sold for a mere ten cent when it was first published in the late 1950s. Edited and produced by D.N. Vidyarthi from its inception, the magazine was replete with articles, songs and pictures about Indian movies, movie stars, musicians, directors, producers and other information about the Indian film industry. The magazines were sold at the cinemas showing Indian movies and complemented the movie experience with their valuable information on Indian movies and stars. Clearly, there was a great demand for this type of magazine among Indian movie fans in Trinidad since each issue was sold out.
Many people were introduced to Indian movies through Filmindia magazine. They read about forthcoming Indian movies in Filmindia and waited for their release in the country or in cinemas close to locations where they live. Gayatri Mahabirsingh recalled that her elder brother saw Indian movies at cinemas in San Fernando and purchased copies of that magazine for her. She lived in Rio Claro and when she read about a forthcoming movie, she waited patiently for its release in a cinema in her area. She reminisced that “reading Filmindia magazine was a real treat” since it gave her glimpses of the lives of Indian stars and the movies themselves. Like thousands of others across the nation, Gayatri found Filmindia a valuable source of information on Indian movies.[iii] In addition to reading the magazine, thousands of people wrote letters to the editor of the magazine commending Vidyarthi for his work, suggesting ways for improvement and requesting information that they wanted to see in the magazine. This led to special issue productions of Filmindia such as a Mohammed Rafi Special[iv] and another entitled Hits from Films Special. [v] One regular feature in each issue of the magazine was the filmi songs from various movies, which endeared the magazine to its readers. Many people kept the magazine as a souvenir because of the songs and pictures. In addition, several issues contained information about Indian stars and their mailing addresses which locals used to communicate with their favourite stars.
During the years of its existence, the name was changed from Filmindia to Filmedia and then to Filmray, even though the contents largely remained the same. In order to maintain interest in the magazine several Spot the Star Competitions were held, including one in which only the eyes of the stars were placed on the page and readers were asked to name the stars simply by looking at the eyes. Additionally Filmindiamagazine also started a Fan Club and a Penpal Club, which attracted thousands of fans. One of the most rewarding aspects of the magazine for the editor was the receipt of letters from local Indian movie fans who had used Filmindia’s information on names and addresses of Indian film stars to contact the stars in India, and had received replies from them including signed photographs of the stars. Just as the earlier Indian indentured immigrants were starved of things Indian, local Indian movie fans were literally starved of information about Indian movies and Indian movie stars. Filmindia filled that void and thousands of letters to the editor attested to that view. The magazine was produced in collaboration with IOI, which had established branches in Guyana and Suriname where there were also large East Indian communities. As a result, the magazine was distributed in those countries through India Overseas International Limited with great success. Indian films that were exhibited in Trinidad through IOI were also shown in these two Caribbean countries thus the magazine was also of tremendous importance to East Indians in those countries because of similar filmi experiences.
By the late 1970s, another Indian film magazine, Stardust, came on the local market. This was a glossy, colorful and superior magazine to the black and white Filmindia magazine. As Stardust became popular, Filmindia declined in popularity, and soon folded up, leaving Stardust to rule the local Indian movie showbiz circuit. By the 1980s, it was difficult to find any Filmindia magazines on sale at any of the local cinema houses; however, other Bollywood magazines such as Stardust, Star and Filmfare had gained in popularity locally and were sold at local bookstores and other retail outlets in the country.
Posters and pictures of favorite and popular stars were sometimes sold at cinemas to promote the movie being released. Many local shops such as Balroop’s Record Shop and Little Store also imported Indian filmi posters and other paraphernalia associated with Indian movies and sold them on the local market. Many video clubs by the 1980s also became an alternate source of filmi paraphernalia for Indian movie fans.
The various genres of Indian movies had their audiences in Trinidad. For example, the religious and mythological films brought out to the cinema numerous people who would not otherwise have gone to the cinema to view the melodramas. People went to the cinema for several reasons. In the early days Trinidad East Indians went to the movies mainly because it was an Indian movie but in later years as the songs and music became popular and stars themselves became the drawing cards, there was a gradual movement away from the initial draw-net (Indianness) to one of tastes and preferences.
East Indians in Trinidad were able to relate to Indian movies in numerous ways because of the similarities of culture that existed between India and Trinidad East Indians. Indian movies gave East Indians in Trinidad a space from which they could relate to the rest of the society in a way they had not been able to do before. It helped them to contextualize that space within the framework of their own evolving institutions in the land.
[i] Interview with Shakuntala Parray. 5 Jan. 2010.Female.81 years. San Juan. Housewife.
[ii] Filmindia magazine was first produced in the late1950s.It was edited, produced ,printed and distributed by D. N. Vidyarthi.
[iii] Interview with Gayatri Mahabirsingh. 22 Mar. 2010. Female.44 years. Rio Claro. Photographer, Indian Movie collector.
[iv]. Filmindia May 1966..
[v]. Filmindia songbook special August 1979.