Frnas osten

From PhalkeFactory

He had studied law in Calcutta and London where as a student of Nobel Prize winner Rabrindranath Tagore he had also directed a theatre group that promised to revive Indian acting and theatre traditions. He had heard that the Passion Plays of Oberammergau were a showcase for German culture and now wanted to create the Indian equivalent. In Europe as well as in the United States so-called "Orientals", films with an oriental setting and subject matter, enjoyed substantial success. Ernst Lubitsch's Sumurun (1920); and Joe May's "Tiger of Eshnapur" and The Indian Tomb (both 1921) touched a desire for exotic tales. One associated India with gold and spices, streets teeming with people and exotic temples. The Orient promised spiritual Europeans spiritual release as well as earthly pleasures. But while May made his films in a studio just outside Berlin using German extras made up with shoe polish, Rai and Osten intended to show a "real" India. "No film can be truly artistic, or, I believe, really popular" Rai declared, "unless the out-of-date fakeries of background and camerawork are ruthlessly abandoned" [1]. Rai hoped that the West would give him technical assistance and distribute his film projects. In looking to make an Indian counterpart to the Passion Plays of Oberammergau, he settled on Osten. Franz Ostermayr, later Franz Osten, was born in Munich in 1876. He trained to be a photographer like his father and gave acting a try. In 1907, he founded a travelling cinema called the "Original Physograph Company" together with his brother Peter Ostermayr, who later established the predecessor to Bavaria Studios, today one of Germany's largest film studios. Amongst other films, he showed Life in India, a short documentary about the Munich carnival. The run was not very successful: three days after the opening, the projector exploded in flames. Osten decided to make films and in 1911 directed his first feature, Erna Valeska. His career was abruptly interrupted by the beginning of World War I. He worked first as a correspondent, then became a soldier. After the war Osten made peasant dramas like The War of the Oxen and Chain of Guilt for EMELKA in Munich. At the same time India was going through a process of transformation. 1919 was the year of Gandhi's first Satyagraha campaign. Many Indian artists were interested in liberating themselves from English colonial power in order to make audiences more aware of the roots of their own culture. Gandhi's fight for independence encouraged Indian artists to strengthen their own identity and detach it from Imperial influences. The desire for national sovereignty led Himansu Rai to employ Europeans like Franz Osten in order to create connections with other countries that were independent of Great Britain and to train Indian technicians, artists and producers to Western standards. In India itself there were 300 movie houses by 1926 [2] plus countless travelling cinemas, but 90 per cent of the films shown were imported from Hollywood [3], almost exclusively from Universal Studios. Indian material was rarely seen. Himansu Rai wanted to change this. The cinematic counterpart to the Passion Plays of Oberammergau had to be a story that could be shown in first-run metropolitan theatres, as well as the stretched sheets of the provincial travelling cinemas that were trying to bring to their audiences the sense of a great cultural past. Rai managed to convince the conservative Munich film industry, which was already said to be "carefully, sometimes too carefully avoiding any experiment" [4] into contributing to his enterprise. Rai and EMELKA agreed to make a film on the life of Buddha. The Germans were to provide equipment, camera crew and the director, Franz Osten; Rai would provide the script, the actors, locations and all the capital necessary. On 26 February 1925, Osten and Rai, together with their cameramen, Willi Kiermeier and Josef Wirsching, and comedian Bertl Schultes, boarded a ship for India. On 18 March they arrived in Bombay. There Osten began to shoot his first Indian film, Prem Sanyas - Die Leuchte Asiens - The Light of Asia, the first German-Indian co-production. The film tells the story of Prince Gautama Buddha, who according to an omen will "follow the sad and lowly path of self denial and pious pain" if he ever faces old age, sickness or death. To prevent this, the King keeps him imprisoned behind the high walls of his palace. One day Gautama leaves his golden cage and is confronted with human misery. At night a revelation comes to him in a dream. A mysterious voice bids him to choose between the carefree life with his beloved wife Gopa and a life in pursuit of eternal truth. In the early morning hours Gautama leaves the court of the King. Attacking common religious practices of sacrifice and self-humiliation, he soon builds up a sizeable following. A young woman kneels before him asking to be received amongst his followers. The woman is Gopa. One story in the memoirs of assistant director Bertl Schultes, illustrates some of the problems Osten and his colleagues encountered when shooting The Light of Asia: No single day was to be lost, as the film had to be shot before the beginning of the Monsoon season... On most shooting days the temperature reached 55 degrees centigrade... After many rehearsals we were just ready for a take employing six horses. When [Osten] was just about to give the signal to start shooting, he saw another Indian opening an umbrella. He ran towards him but suffered a heat stroke on the way back. We carried him into a tent. Luckily a doctor was there, so was plenty of ice, and he recovered consciousness. I finished the take, the camera man made another. I also had a dizzy spell and, though being massaged with ice, could not get up for 2 hours. Meanwhile, Osten was back on his feet and continued working, his head covered with ice ... [5] Buddha's "fight between love and denial" [6] combined a script written by the Indian playwright Narinjan Pal based on Erwin Arnold's poem The Light of Asia [7] with images of state elephants decorated with real gold and jewels, wise Yogis filmed for the first time, and authentic lepers. The pictures of "life and death" in India gained a special quality through the authenticity of Osten's footage: the priests and the beggars were played by people who occupied these positions in real life. One episode that Osten notes in his diary illustrates his striving for authenticity:

“ The characteristics of the film lie not only in the manner in which man presents himself to mechanical equipment but also in the manner in which, by means of this apparatus, man can rep