Niranjan Pal –A Forgotten Legend (2011)

Documentaries / Feb 7, 2014

A Film by Lalit Mohan Joshi
Commentary –Shyam Benegal
Music – Pandit Vishwa Prakash
Duration – 30 Minutes
Producer- Heritage Lottery Fund with SACF

In the year 2011, SACF launched a unique project funded by UK’s Heritage Lottery Fund, titled: Lifting the Curtain: Niranjan Pal and Indo-British Collaboration in Cinema (1908-1929). The project undertook research on legendary filmmaker and scenarist, Niranjan Pal, so far ignored both in India and the west. Niranjan Pal not only remains till date, the most successful Indian dramatist in London’s West End Theatre, but was also a prime mover in the making of classic silent films – Light of Asian (1925), Shiraz (1928) and A Throw of Dice (1929) that made him a symbol of Indo-British Collaboration in Cinema.

Commenting on the project, Sue Bowers, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund London, declared: “This project will help to unlock little-known information about how the Indo-British film industry developed in the early years of the 20th century providing a valued source of information for film historians and academics both here and in the sub-continent.”

Remarking on the significance of the funding from the HLF, SACF Director, Lalit Mohan Joshi had aptly remarked: “This Heritage Lottery Fund grant is quite significant for the SACF in its tenth anniversary year. It will go a long way in fulfilling our commitment to work for building film culture in the UK. SACF’s ‘Lifting the Curtain Project’ is significant as hardly anything is known about Pal’s life and extraordinary achievements in the important field of Indo-British film heritage”.

Throughout the term of the project, SACF staff and volunteers engaged in research and various activities to showcase the life and achievements of Niranjan Pal. These included: An exhibition of rare photographs along with research material collated by SACF and editing, producing and releasing a new publication titled: Niranjan Pal: A Forgotten Legend and Such is Life containing an illustrated version of Niranjan Pal’s original autobiography and a collection of essays on his life.

SACF’s Director and film historian Lalit Mohan Josh also produced a new documentary Niranjan Pal – A Forgotten Legend. The film explored the fascinating journey of Niranjan Pal from a revolutionary young student and nationalist in London to a London-based playwright, filmmaker and celebrity screenwriter who went on to give India’s pioneering film studio, Bombay Talkies, classic films such as Achhut Kanya (1936) and Janma Bhoomi (1936) as well as actors like Devika Rani, Himansu Rai, Najmul Husain and Ashok Kumar some of their best roles.

During the year-long Indo-British Film Heritage project, SACF organised diverse training workshops for project volunteers. An important part of the Project consisted of helping to demystify heritage research by introducing a mixed group of 20 volunteers to London’s key libraries and archives, including the British Library, the British Film Institute and the National Portrait Gallery.

A high point of the Project was a series of major public events held in the Summer of 2011 in collaboration with the Watermans Arts Centre, Brentford; The Nehru Centre, Mayfair; the British Film Institute (BFI) Southbank; the Richmix Centre, Shoreditch; and the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan, West Kensington.

Besides members of the public, events organised as part of this Heritage Project by SACF, were attended by film academics, scholars and film students from London’s School of Oriental African Studies (SOAS), the University of Westminster and representatives from the British Film Institute. Descendants of Niranjan Pal – his granddaughter (Melita Malewar) from Chennai, his Cinematographer grandson (Deep Pal) from Mumbai and his greatgrandson (Dr Joyojeet Pal) from USA also cooperated with and responded warmly to the project and attend and contributed to various public events.

During the season of Niranjan Pal films which formed a significant part of this heritage project, SACF worked with project volunteers from the local community to screen films linked with Niranjan Pal that had been located by the project. The films screened included the Pal’s famous trilogy consisting of: The Light of Asia (1925), Shiraz (1928) and A Throw of Dice (1929). To introduce an element of period authenticity, SACF took the novel step of holding a special screening of The Light of Asia at the BFI with live music and songs created and performed by a group of professional musicians led and directed by Indian musician, Pandit Vishwa Prakash, that accompanied the film.

Through their research SACF was able to find out that an English murder mystery film directed by Sinclair Hill titled: A Gentleman of Paris (1931) based on an English novel written by Niranjan Pal was available in the BFI film archives. SACF unearthed this rare film and screened it at the BFI , The film screening was attended by a daughter of the film’s main female lead who told a packed audience at the NFT 1 Hall of the BFI after the screening, that it was the first time she had ever seen the film.

For further information about the book, film, films related to this Heritage Project, please contact SACF.

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