Jamshedji Framji Madan (1856 - 1926)

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Jamsetji Framjee Madan and

the Madan Theatre Empire


The creator and prospective owner of the biggest film giant this country has ever seen Jamsetji began his film career through a very long winded route, as an actor in the Cooverji Nazir company, which he later came to rule. A Bombay born Parsi he had set up establishment in Calcutta and was a business tycoon of some proportions and included real estate, insurance, import of foods, a large number of film and theatre auditoriums and above all import of foreign films, feature and others, among his interests. His interest in making a film was ignited when he watched Phalke's Raja Harishchandra as an invitee. He had to bide his time until the disruption caused by the first world war abated somewhat, but in the middle of 1917 released his own version of Raja Harishchandra, under the banner of Elphinstone Bioscope Company.Jamsetji had been trained in the Parsi theatre tradition, one which was dominated by melodrama and spectacle based largely on the staple fare of Ramayana, Mahabharata, Arabic Nights tales and the hordes of Persian and Urdu Daastaan which were a part of the oral and written traditions of North India. These leanings were strengthened by the big budget action splendours which Hollywood and other centres were turning out in the period. He already owned two huge theatre companies the Alfred and the Corinthian, and apart from a whole host of artists and technicians also employed the legendary Agha Hashr Kashmiri whose enormous influence on the trends and conventions of Indian cinema has never been fully appreciated. Jamsetji's first two films therefore were based on proven stage hits. Satyawadi Raja Harishchandra(1917) and Bilwamangal (1919, which so introduced silent era's most prolific and successful heroine Guar Jan) the first two films produced by Jamsetji were accordingly adapted for the screen where they turned out to be as successful. In 1919 he launched Madan Theatres Limited, a joint stock company which produced, distributed and exhibited films and imported most of the foreign films which were shown in India. As early as 1920 Madan Theatres owned or controlled 51 theatres, a number which increased to 85 in 1926 and to 126 in 1931 controlling most film business not just in undivided India but also in Burma and Ceylon. It was not for nothing that Madan Theatres pretty much dominated the silent film business.Fortified by the success of his first two films Jamsetji, who already had a number of European technicians in his employ, decided to make another grand spectacle, Nala Damyanti, another Mahabharata story, with the famous Italian Eugenio De Liguoro as director. A grand spectacle the film's success was a foregone conclusion. The Times of India noted that although in general Indian products, in any field, were shabbier compared to the European standards, Nala Damyanti " is a film which has all the finish of a film produced in Europe or America." Di Liguoro directed many other films for the company including a serialised version of Ramayana (every week the theatre would show a new episode and tickets were issued for the whole series). Madan employed other directors too: Camille Legrand trained in the Pathe studios Paris, and Bengalis such as Sisir Kumar Bhaduri, Jyotish Bannerji and others.Madan Theatres was also the first one to turn to non-mythologicals, or 'social'(= any film in modern setting) films, especially towards the end of the silent era. Some of them were simple variations on the errant husband, devoted wife and the mysterious vamp formula, but some were based on classics such as Bankim Chandra or Tagore's novels, whose rights were first acquired by Madan. Accordingly between 1923 and 1925 (when Jamsetji's death had seen his son JJ Madan take over, who promptly modernised the company) Madan Theatres produced a number of these 'social' films. Patni Pratap (1923) which introduced the legendary Anglo Patience Cooper, Pati Bhakti (1922) and Savitri, a co-production with UG Italiana, with an incongruous Italian setting and Italian faces playing the lead roles which did nothing to reduce the film's success. In 1926 Madan produced Jaydeo, a biographical film based on the celebrated 12th century author of Geet Govinda, which had a run of 23 weeks in Calcutta. In the same year they filmed Prafulla, based on Girish Chandra Ghosh' successful play of that name, and Bankim's famous story Krishnakant's Will. The company continued to produce films at the rate of ten to twelve a year and continued to do so long after the energies of most other pioneers had been depleted.Madan also made an extremely large number of short films, based on public issues apart from importing films on similar themes. The company also produced, on demand, short industrial films, as well as travel and newsreel. Within a space of twenty five years, Jamsetji had created and left behind an Empire which virtually crated a film culture in the country. Beginning first with importing foreign films, he had moved to producing, distributing and showing an extraordinary large number of Indian films. Truly an outstanding achievement, and one without which it is impossible to conceive of an Indian film industry. Surely it deserves more than oblivion from modern India.

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