After what seems like an eternity, Mumbai city has finally got a museum dedicated to Indian Cinema. For an industry which took its roots in this very city in 1913 and for a city which boasts of being the mecca of the film industry in India, such a museum had been long overdue yet no one from the film industry in Mumbai came forward to take any special interest in such a project.
Mumbai holds a special place in the history of cinema. In 1896, it was at Mumbai’s Watson Hotel, that Cinema was introduced to the Indian audiences by a touring representative of Lumiere Brothers of France, the inventors of Cinematography.
Within a year or so, H S Bhatvadekar filmed a mathematician getting off at Apollo Bunder, Mumbai, thus becoming the first Indian to produce moving images.
On May 13th, 1913 India’s first indigenously made silent film RAJA HARISHCHANDRA was screened at the Coronation Cinema, Mumbai. It was made by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke popularly referred to as Dadasaheb Phalke. People loved it and flocked to see it and the world of entertainment underwent a radical change after that. He would have never imagined in his wildest dreams the revolution he had set in motion.
The first Indian Talkie Alam Ara directed by Ardheshir Irani debuted at the Majestic Cinema in Mumbai on 14 March 1931.
During the next hundred years, we evolved our own unique style of cinema which had a mix of everything- dance, drama, music, song, action, fights and melodrama-all packaged neatly within 2-3 hours of the narrative. The journey which began with the silent films soon spread its wings to making talkies not only in Hindi but in many regional languages as well and today we have separate film industries in several States which have a distinct flavour of their own.
And finally now, 105 years later, the Cinema City of India has rightfully got a museum to document and appreciate our wonderful cinematic legacy. After all, there are lots of stories and hardships hidden in the folds of our cinematic history which need to be told, heard, seen and remembered. This journey of a hundred years is studded with tales of dreamers, visionaries, talented artistes, musicians, writers, directors, technical experts, etc., who believed in their skills but faced many an obstacle to lay the foundation of cinema in our country with their hard work, will power, dedication and perseverance. Some got fame and some are not even remembered today but every person helped in shaping our cinema into what it has become today.
Such a museum thus becomes a wonderful place to document our legacy and to pause and look back at the pioneers who spent a lifetime in moulding this industry. Not only fans across generations will appreciate this but it will be an eye-opener for students of cinema and cinematic techniques as well.
The museum was inaugurated by our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi on 19th January, 2019 and opened for public viewing from 20th January. The ticket price for such a wealth of information is only Rupees 20/- for adults, free for children up to the age of 12 years and Rupees 500/- for foreigners. This is the first of its kind of museum in our country and film lovers can learn a lot from this.
The inauguration function was held in the august presence of many film personalities from different eras like Kamini Kaushal, Manoj Kumar, Asha Bhonsle, Asha Parekh, Jeetendra, Aamir Khan, Rohit Shetty, Karan Johar, A R Rahman, Kunal Kohli, etc.
First director Shyam Benegal as the Chairperson of the Advisory Committee of the Museum addressed the gathering and spoke briefly about the beginnings of cinema. This was followed by a speech by Rajvardhan Rathore, the Olympian turned Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting who explained the steps and efforts taken by the Government to help the Film Industry.
Then our Prime Minister gave a very inspiring and motivating speech where he addressed many aspects of films and film-making techniques over the years. He also emphasized how films have the power to transcend boundaries and geographical borders and carry a little of our country and its culture with them wherever they are released. Earlier he took a tour of the entire museum going through all sections and exhibits. He was accompanied by the CBFC Chairman and Member of Innovative Committee, Mr Prasoon Joshi.
THE MUSEUM TOUR
The museum situated in the Films Division Complex in Peddar Road, South Mumbai, is spread across two buildings in the complex-an old 19th century Heritage building Gulshan Mahal, which has been restored as part of the NMIC project and a New Museum building with a modern design and a glass façade.
The place offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of Indian cinema and houses rare photographs, artefacts, equipment, posters, film clippings, documents, sound clips and songs, etc., thereby making this museum tour a memorable experience.
We are advised to start our tour with Gulshan Mahal and then proceed to the new building. This building which incidentally has an interesting history of its own (https://scroll.in/article/656901/indias-first-film-museum-set-to-open-soon-has-a-disputed-history) had an old-world charm and seemed a perfect place to house the exhibits of our century old cinema.
At the entrance stands bust of the father of our Indian cinema Dadasaheb Phalke.
The first room as soon as we enter has artefacts tracing the early beginnings of cinema and here we can see the statues of the famous Lumiere Brothers- Auguste and Louis Lumiere-who were among the first filmmakers in the world.
There is a lot of written information to grasp and plenty of huge photographs accompanying them. The corridors are filled with film posters which in today’s times have sadly become extinct. Those were the days when a film poster was all that was needed to draw the crowds to the cinema halls. There were no such crazy and mindless bragging and publicity of the upcoming films.
Two floors of this building are covered with many incredible exhibits catering to different aspects of cinema. The information is classified under different sections- The Origin of Cinema, Cinema comes to India, Indian Silent films, The Advent of Sound, The Studio Era, The Impact of World War II, Creative Resonance, New Wave and Beyond and Regional Cinema.
The different sections will give the visitor an excellent idea of the timeline of the events, the way they happened and the most important people associated with them. The room on regional cinema has separate walls with information catering to Tamil cinema, Telugu cinema, Marathi cinema, Bengali cinema, Oriya cinema, etc.
I was particularly thrilled to see a special wall devoted to the film Devdas and Indian Cinema. I have always been enamoured by the number of remakes of this one film and its long-lasting impact on all the subsequent films.
In fact I had devoted one of my blog posts specifically to this topic and actually ended up watching many of the versions of Devdas. Without hesitation my all-time favourite remains the original Hindi version directed by P C Barua starring the immortal ‘singer-actor’ K L Saigal. (https://myviewsonbollywood.wordpress.com/2016/08/08/the-magic-of-devdas-and-its-unwavering-hold-over-indian-cinema/)
There is information on other pioneers who had strived around the same time as Dadasaheb Phalke. Photographs of playback singers from different eras also adorn the walls of the passages. Information on our earliest film publications is also documented.
Now we come out of Gulshan Mahal and move onto the new wing which is a tall 5-storeyed modern building with a glass façade. As soon as we enter, to the left is a huge wall adorned with photographs of well-known film personalities extending up to almost 3-4 floors.
The ground floor has a huge reception area where the inauguration took place and has two small auditoriums/screening halls where some shows of short duration are held throughout the day at specific timings. When we went a show on Raj Kapoor’s last journey was going on. The seats were super comfortable but we stayed for only 5 minutes as we had to see 4 floors of the museum.
The floors are divided into specific sections and one can see in any order. There are staircases, elevators and escalators as well to make it convenient for senior citizens also to visit this place. Each floor has drinking water and neat clean toilets as well. We were told that a huge cafeteria was being built on the top floor but was not ready yet.
The first floor is about MAHATMA GANDHI & CINEMA. For someone who saw only one film and that too in parts in his lifetime- Ram Rajya, directed by Vijay Bhatt in 1943, the idea of dedicating a whole floor to Mahatma Gandhi was quite unexpected but unique nevertheless. Gandhiji’s ideology and philosophy find their way in many of our films. There is a huge statue of Gandhiji sitting and watching Ram Rajya and several scenes from the movie keep playing on the screen in front of him.
There is an interesting timeline which compares the events in Gandhiji’s life vs incidents happening with respect to evolution of cinema in the world. Gandhiji’s thoughts and philosophical ideals influenced in shaping the ideas projected in our cinema from the beginning and continue to do so even now.
The second floor is titled CHIDREN’s FILM STUDIO. This area is basically an interactive arena which allows children (and even adults) to understand and experiment with the basics of many technical aspects of cinema and includes Chroma studio, Stop-motion animation, sound effect and mixing, etc. Some idea of virtual makeover, shooting, singing, etc. can also be experienced.
The third floor deals with TECHNOLOGY & CREATIVITY & INDIAN CINEMA. Technology has played a significant role in the journey of cinema. This level introduces us to some of the earliest equipment used in our cinema. Here we come across the different types of cameras, lights, lenses, bulbs, Magnetic recorders, Sound recorders, Editing techniques, etc. used across the different eras.
Photographs from the earliest films where special effects were used are displayed. Dadasaheb Phalke was a pioneer in this field also. He used his creative imagination to use special effects in his early films like Lanka Dahan and Shri Krishna Janma. In Kaliya Mardan little Krishna can be seen dancing on the 5-hooded cobra.
Similarly we had actor-director P C Barua use the ‘jump cut’ technique for the first time in Devdas. He is also credited for using the technique of flashback in film. Director V Shantaram used tilted camera shots. All these and other examples can be seen through huge photographs which are displayed on the walls.
The topmost floor or level 4 is devoted to CINEMA ACROSS INDIA. This section deals with our regional films, their ground-breaking work, their immense contribution and their luminaries. There is also information on ‘Travelling Cinema’ when screens were erected inside tents and these were then packed up and the venue shifted to some other place the next day.
Aspects related to playback singing in India and photographs and recordings of many top singers across India are displayed. One can listen to old songs sung by K L Saigal also. Contribution of different directors, musicians, lyricists, choreographers, etc. are listed.
There is a special wall for the winners of the coveted Dadasaheb Phalke Award for Excellence in cinema.
There is also an interesting section devoted to Film Certification in India.
At the far end stands a statue of Raj Kapoor in his iconic pose of the vagabond from his films ‘Awara’ and ‘Shree 420’. Anyone who comes to see the museum definitely has a photo taken here. So here is our photo.
So that sums up the gist of what can be expected to be seen in the museum. I may not have covered every aspect but the idea was to give a glimpse of what’s in store in case you are planning to visit. The museum is definitely a wonderful initiative to familiarize the cinema loving audience of this country about how the fascinating journey began and how it evolved. There is definitely scope and room for more additions and newer things to be attempted but at least a beginning has been made.
I came across this link on YouTube which gives an overview of the museum. This also gives an idea of the arrangement of the different sections inside.
For those of you who do not have much idea but are interested to learn, this visit will be an eye-opener. For those who are familiar would probably enjoy even more because of the many familiar things you may have read in books or heard or seen.
A few thoughts:
I have always been fascinated with the magic and mystique of the world of Hindi cinema which has held the audience in our country under its spell for a century and continues to do so with great fervour even today. It has the power to transcend language and religion and binds us as one during the three hours when we experience similar human emotions inside the cinema hall.
I find it intriguing to go back in time to study, understand and unravel the treasures of our cinematic legacy by watching movies from different eras, listening to different songs and appreciating the different artistes. For a lover of Bollywood history like me it is a great feeling to finally have a museum for films in my city.
Looking back, my tryst with films started when as a one year old my mother took me to see a Black &White film starring Manoj Kumar and Mala Sinha and I am told that I sat through the film mesmerised and captivated by what unfolded on the big screen. In fact, my mother never tires of recounting how she had been both surprised and grateful that I did not trouble her at all during the entire duration of the film. I guess a magical bond was established between me and Hindi cinema in that hall that day and with the passage of time, my love for the movies only increased! And I owe it all to my mother!
So about two months back on 2nd April, 2019, when I got the opportunity to visit this museum with my mother -the very person who introduced me to cinema- the visit acquired a special significance for me and together we enjoyed our journey down memory lane…