Himanshu Rai

1892 - 1940

The Journey

A short and crisp look at the career of Himanshu Rai

Early Years: Rai was born into a wealthy Bengali family. He took a Law degree from the University of Calcutta and studied with Tagore at Santiniketan. He trained as a lawyer in London in the early 1920s and also began acting in plays there, amongst them Niranjan Pal's The Goddess.

Early Career: In association with Pal, The Light of Asia, which he co-directed with Franz Osten, was made. Rai was also one of the main actors in this film. While making his third film, Prapancha Pash, he met and fell in love with Devika Rani, a great-grandniece of the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Before this film was complete, he married her.

Early Career: Rai collaborated with Germany's famous studio UFA and made, Shiraz, in 1928, and, A Throw of Dice, 1929. Rai joined forces with IBP of England and wholly produced Karma, a bilingual in English and Hindi. The film starring Devika Rani was a critical success but failed to score at the box office.

Success: In 1933, Rai and Devika came to India bringing with them the as yet unseen Hindi version of Karma. The film premiered in early 1934 and was highly acclaimed.

Success: In 1934, Bombay Talkies Ltd. was formed. Under the painstaking supervision of Himansu Rai, it purchased the most modern equipment from Germany. Franz Osten, director and a handful of technicians came down from England and Germany. By 1935, a stream of Hindi productions began to emerge from Bombay Talkies Ltd.

Success: Rai & Devika initiated a trainee program. Each year Rai interviewed scores of job candidates, many sent by Indian Universities. Assignment of staff workers to a variety of duties that would broaden their conception of the film medium was a policy he personally implemented. Ashok Kumar, their leading man began as a laboratory assistant!

Later Years: The outbreak of World War II meant that the German technicians and director Franz Osten were interned by the British, thus crippling the studio. Overwork and mental strain took its toll on Rai who suffered a nervous breakdown. He never recovered and died in 1940.

Curtains: After Rai, Devika took over the reins of Bombay Talkies. But by 1945, she too left following tussles with other studio executives. Though Bombay Talkies came out with successful films like Ziddi and Mahal, its days were numbered. Badbaan, a last ditch effort made for the workers of Bombay Talkies proved unsuccessful and the studio ceased production.

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