JF Madan

From PhalkeFactory

also look at Jamshedji Framji Madan


He started his career with Cooverji Nazir's Theatrical Company as an actor. Later, he proceeded to acquire the company and built up a vast empire of diverse strengths : import of food items to liquor, real estate, insurance, films and film equipment, and two theatrical companies in Calcutta - Alfred and Corinthian. These companies boasted of competent actors and actresses on their payroll, apart from the noted Urdu playwright Agha Hashr Kashmiri.

In 1902, J.F. Madan organized 'bioscope shows' in Calcutta. These were held in tents and were extremely popular.

J.F. Madan's business acumen, as early as 1902 : bad weather broke on a film show and the staff inquired whether the show should be cancelled, and the two spectators refunded their money. Madan ordered that the two spectators be shown two pictures at the price of one! The show would go on.

In 1907 - Elphinstone Picture Palace was set up. With this, Madan took the first step toward his theatre chain that would eventually stretch across India, Burma (then a part of India) and Ceylon (now, Sri Lanka).

The success of his stage plays prompted Madan to produce his own films:

In 1917 - Satyavadi Raja Harishchandra. The 7000-foot long film was based on the play by the same name.

In 1919 - Bilwamangal. The film was based on the play by the same name. Miss Gohar (a singer-actress from Calcutta) was widely acclaimed for her performance as the courtesan Chintamani, and was to later make a smooth transition into the talkies.

Both films were highly successful.

In 1919 - Launch of Madan Theatres Limited. This was to become India's largest production-distribution-exhibition company, and the biggest importer of American films after World War I. The European film industry was badly effected by the war, and since both celluloid and explosives were made from one and the same material, film-making suffered. American serials such as Perils of Pauline and Exploits of Elaine, and the spectacular sets of films like Quo Vadis and Cabira were popular and inspiring.

Grand sets became the norm at Madan Theatres and mythological stories provided all the necessary ingredients for a successful film. Characterization corresponded to the all-round spectacle - men were of tremendous courage and gallantry, and the women renowned for their beauty and intelligence.

By being the first to employ foreign directors for his films, Madan was able to introduce a hitherto unknown level of sophistication in Indian films. Some films:

Nala Damyanti - directed by Eugenio De Liguoro, an Italian. The film was vastly ahead of its contemporaries in terms of sets and direction. Liguoro directed six other films for Madan Theatres, including :

In 1921 - Dhruva Charitra.

In 1922 - (the serial) Ramayana.

In 1922 - Ratnavali. The film was directed by Camille Legrand of Pathe studios in Paris. Patience Cooper (an actress from Calcutta) won accolades for her performance as the princess, and was one of the few stars of the silent era to continue successfully into talkies. This Sanskrit classic was one of several films that Legrand directed for Madan Theatres.

Among the first to acquire rights to some of the stories of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Rabindra Nath Tagore - Jamsetji Framji Madan's entrepreneurship was never found wanting. His death in 1923 saw the empire pass into the hands of his sons, of whom J.J. Madan donned the mantle best.


J.J. Madan oversaw the modernization of the studio and the theatres, and was willing to pay Rs 65,000 for a Wurlitzer organ as musical accompaniment for the films. He produced and co-directed with Ezra Mir films that were as popular as the previous ones. Mir was to later become the Chief Producer of the Government of India's Films Division.

In 1923 - Nurjehan. Patience Cooper played the title role and Ezra Mir played Jehangir.

1924 - Savitri. The film was shot in Rome and the leading roles performed by Italians - facts that did not mar the film's chances at the box-office!

A fire at the studios in 1925 destroyed much but the company proved resilient. As in 1902 - the show did go on.

In 1926 - - Jaydeo. A film on the life of the twelfth century poet and author of Gita Govinda. - Prafulla. A film based on the play by Girish Ghosh.

- Krishnakant's Will. A film based on the story by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee.

1932 - - Indrasabha. The film had 59 songs!

- Bilwamangal. (talkie version) The film was one of the first colour films.

In addition to these, Madan Theatres ventured into the territory of educational films such as ones for medical students on new methods of surgery, and Cry of Children for the Public Health Department of Bengal. Short films for industries - tea, jute, cotton, tobacco, travel etc. - were part of the Madan business.

In 1929, Elphinstone Picture Palace was equipped with a permanent sound system. The process of synchronizing sound and picture - Phonofilm, invented by Dr. Lee DeForest - was first demonstrated in India at the Royal Opera House, Bombay.

In the mid-thirties, Madan Theatre passed out of the hands of the Madan family - a change brought about by the corrupt staff and the economic crisis facing the company.


So Many Cinemas. Author - B.D. Garga Publishers - Eminence Designs Private Limited.

Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema. Author -Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen Publishers -Oxford University Press.