indian film history

Missing silent film ‘Bilwamangal’ finally returns to India

A digital version of 20-minute duration has arrived at the National Film Archive of India from Cinematheque Francaise in Paris.

Only 28 fiction and non-fiction films survive from the silent cinema period between the late 1800s and the early 1930s. Make that 29: Bilwamangal, directed by Rustom Dotiwala for the legendary producer Jamshedji Framji Madan in 1919, has been added to the list of titles stored at the National Film Archive of India in Pune. A devotional based on the popular legend of the Krishna devotee who was later known as Bhakta Surdas, the movie stars Dorabji Mewawala and the popular stage actress Miss Gohar.

‘Bilwamangal’. Courtesy National Film Archive of India.
‘Bilwamangal’. Courtesy National Film Archive of India.

“We have around 28 surviving minutes of footage, and it is in excellent condition,” said NFAI director Prakash Magdum. Nearly 1,300 silent movies are estimated to have been made in India, and all but a few have been lost. The original nitrate print of Bilwamangal was stored at the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris. After several months of negotiations, the French organisation has given the NFAI a digital version of the print in exchange for a copy of the 1931 silent film Jamai Babu. “It is a very important acquisition for us,” Magdum said. “The original film was 12,000 feet long, and 594 metres is what we have got. We have a digital version of the original nitrate reels in 2K resolution.”

‘Bilwamangal’. Courtesy National Film Archive of India.
‘Bilwamangal’. Courtesy National Film Archive of India.

The oldest silent movie print at the NFAI is DG Phalke’s second version of Raja Harishchandra from 1917. Bilwamangal is now the second oldest title in the NFAI’s possession, and the first ever visual representative of the kind of movies made by Madan, who is described in BD Garga’s Silent Cinema in India: A Pictorial Journey as “the first movie moghul of India to own a vast production, distribution, and exhibition network, which was to dominate the entertainment industry for nearly two decades”.

Bilwamangal was produced by Elphinstone Bioscope in Kolkata, the predecessor of Madan Theatres Ltd. “With this acquisition, NFAI now possesses in its collection films representing three important Indian studios of the silent era – Madan, Kohinoor and Hindustan,” the NFAI said in a press release.

‘Bilwamangal’. Courtesy National Film Archive of India.
‘Bilwamangal’. Courtesy National Film Archive of India.

Like most silent films, Bilwamangal has been heard about but not seen. “Historical factors, apathy and the inexorable process of nitrate decay have virtually wiped out the Indian silent cinema’s greatest and best known achievements,” writes former NFAI director Suresh Chabria in the anthology Light of Asia Indian Silent Cinema 1912-1934. Much of what we know of the period is from publicity material, such as song booklets and advertisements in newspapers and magazines, and surviving writings from the time.

“It’s most exciting,” said Chabria, who watched Bilwamangal after it came to the archive in Pune. “The movie is different in style from the works of other filmmakers of the period, DG Phalke and Baburao Painter.” The footage includes scenes of Bilwamangal arguing with his father over his relationship with the courtesan Chintamani (Miss Gohar), a dance by Gohar, and a moment of religious awakening when Gohar is visited by the god Krishna. “The surviving portions have what has been described as the Madan style,” Chabria pointed out. “The lighting is beautiful, and there are long takes.”

The NFAI’s admittedly modest silent film treasure includes complete versions of The Light of Asia (1925) by Franz Osten and Himansu Rai and Osten's Shiraz (1929). Only fragments survive of the 1917 version of Raja Harishchandra and Kaliya Mardan (1919), Baburao Painter’s Maya Bazaar (1925), Sati Savitri (1927) and Muraliwala (1927) and PV Rao’s Marthand Varma (1933).

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Advice from an ex-robber on how to keep your home safe

Tips on a more hands-on approach of keeping your house secure.

Home, a space that is entirely ours, holds together our entire world. Where our children grow-up, parents grow old and we collect a lifetime of memories, home is a feeling as much as it’s a place. So, what do you do when your home is eyed by miscreants who prowl the neighbourhood night and day, plotting to break in? Here are a few pre-emptive measures you can take to make your home safe from burglars:

1. Get inside the mind of a burglar

Before I break the lock of a home, first I bolt the doors of the neighbouring homes. So that, even if someone hears some noise, they can’t come to help.

— Som Pashar, committed nearly 100 robberies.

Burglars study the neighbourhood to keep a check on the ins and outs of residents and target homes that can be easily accessed. Understanding how the mind of a burglar works might give insights that can be used to ward off such danger. For instance, burglars judge a house by its front doors. A house with a sturdy door, secured by an alarm system or an intimidating lock, doesn’t end up on the burglar’s target list. Upgrade the locks on your doors to the latest technology to leave a strong impression.

Here are the videos of 3 reformed robbers talking about their modus operandi and what discouraged them from robbing a house, to give you some ideas on reinforcing your home.

Play
Play
Play

2. Survey your house from inside out to scout out weaknesses

Whether it’s a dodgy back door, a misaligned window in your parent’s room or the easily accessible balcony of your kid’s room, identify signs of weakness in your home and fix them. Any sign of neglect can give burglars the idea that the house can be easily robbed because of lax internal security.

3. Think like Kevin McCallister from Home Alone

You don’t need to plant intricate booby traps like the ones in the Home Alone movies, but try to stay one step ahead of thieves. Keep your car keys on your bed-stand in the night so that you can activate the car alarm in case of unwanted visitors. When out on a vacation, convince the burglars that the house is not empty by using smart light bulbs that can be remotely controlled and switched on at night. Make sure that your newspapers don’t pile up in front of the main-door (a clear indication that the house is empty).

4. Protect your home from the outside

Collaborate with your neighbours to increase the lighting around your house and on the street – a well-lit neighbourhood makes it difficult for burglars to get-away, deterring them from targeting the area. Make sure that the police verification of your hired help is done and that he/she is trustworthy.

While many of us take home security for granted, it’s important to be proactive to eliminate even the slight chance of a robbery. As the above videos show, robbers come up with ingenious ways to break in to homes. So, take their advice and invest in a good set of locks to protect your doors. Godrej Locks offer a range of innovative locks that are un-pickable and un-duplicable. To secure your house, see here.

The article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Godrej Locks and not by the Scroll editorial team.