The Bombay Talkies story is full of magic and color. By 1932, Himanshu Rai was back in India after having been exposed to filmmaking in Europe. His ambition was to bring this new cultural phenomena to the Indian people. This must have been harder than you think, because Himanshu Rai struggled to get this idea off the ground, primarily because of the money involved. He was meeting many people and trying to convince them about the magic of cinema but the effort was proving unsuccessful. He had the complete support of people such as F.E Dinshaw, Sir Feroze Sethna among others but they could not help him when it came to the crucial aspect of financing.
In the 30's, the movie business was supposed to be a 'dirty business'. People would talk about movies, but many wouldn't even consider going to watch one. This would be similar to people talking about gold prices but seldom buying it. Even though movies did make people curious, its reputation as a professional field was bad. There seemed to be a lack of respect for the profession because it was be considered the domain of undesirable sections of the then Indian society. Due to this lack of respect and understanding for the profession, financiers during those times would face an impossible challenge when it came to getting returns on their investment.
It was during this hunt for financiers that Himanshu Rai came in contact with Shri. Abhimanyu Prasad Singh, a close friend of Seth Badriprasad Dube, who was a well known financier. Seth Badriprasad refused to finance Himanshu Rai due to the dirty background of the profession. Shri. Abhimanyu spoke next to Seth Badri Prasad's son Shri. Rajnarayan Dube. He was a young and dynamic businessman who operated a successful company called Dube Industries, which he had founded in 1929. Shri. Dube was born on 10th October 1910 at Kalighat in Kolkata was an ardent devotee of Maa Kali. He was influenced by the power of art and creativity at a young age. Both men met at the Taj Mumbai Hotel in Colaba and discussed an initial investment amount of Rs.25 lakh. However, Himanshu Rai couldn't not convince Rajnarayan Dube to invest the amount because of the dismal returns on investment that the Indian movie industry offered. At this point, it would seem that Bombay Talkies would never come to be, but things have a way of working out in unexpected ways.
A few months passed by and Himanshu Rai had grown increasingly despondent because it was becoming impossible to raise investment for his movie company. In his depression, the man attempted suicide but was unsuccessful. Shri. Rajnarayan Dube got wind of this through Shri Abhimanyu Prasad Singh and wondered about this man, one who so completely and wholeheartedly believed in the power of cinema and talking pictures that he did not see it fit to continue living if he couldn't follow his dreams. Rajnarayan Dube decided that Himanshu Rai was onto something here and finalized the investment with him soon after. In doing this, Shri. Rajnarayan Dube went deliberately against the advice of his father, Seth Badriprasad Dube, who felt that this would not be a good investment choice. In doing this, Shri. Rajnarayan Dube gave birth to the Indian Film Industry, which has now gone on to become a huge cultural and financial force in the country.
On 22nd June, 1934, Bombay Talkies began operations. The movie company was named byShri. Dube's mother, Shrimati Gayatri Devi. Though Light of Asia was a concept which Himanshu Rai built during his days in Europe, the first film to come out of the stables was Karma, which launched the same year. It was followed by Jawani ki Hawa, Achhut Kanya and Jeevan Naiya . The movie company operated along a principle of keeping the creative aspects and business aspects separate. Shri. Rajnarayan Dube would look into the business end of things and both Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani would immerse themselves in the creative pursuit. This approach gave rise to some of the most technically impressive films seen this side of the planet. The technical prowess was due to the movie studio employing German and other European technicians, prominent among them being Franz Osten.
Bombay Talkies was single handedly responsible of making the careers of some of the leading talent in the golden age of Indian cinema. Besides Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani, the company gave the world Ashok Kumar, Leela Chitnis, Madhubala (who began as a child artist and was given her stage name by Rajnarayan Dube himself), Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Mehmood, Kishore Kumar, Kamal Amrohi, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Sashadhar Mukherjee, Lata Mangeshkar, Satyajit Ray, Amiya Chakravarti, SD Burman, Manna Dey, Saraswati Devi (who was the first woman music director in Asia) and many more. All in all, Bombay Talkies gave the world 280 of the most talented movie professionals in the last century.
While Himanshu Rai's original vision for a movie production house sowed the seeds for the formation of Indian cinema as an industry, Shri. Rajnarayan Dube single-handedly architected the business angle of the entire industry which was yet to come. He supported various new theatres such as BN Sircar's New Theatres in Calcutta, V Shantaram's Prabhat Pictures, Homi Wadia's Wadia Movietone, Sohrab Modi's Minerva Movietone, LV Prasad's Prasad Labs and Pictures ( Prasad was an ex-technician from Bombay Talkies), SM Vasan's Gemini Pictures and Mehboob Khan's theatres. Shri. Dube financed these fledgling companies and made them stronger. In essence, he build the entire movie ecosystem in the country. Everyone whom Shri. Dube supported went to on build a name for themselves in the industry.
Shri. Rajnarayan Dube had a big vision for Indian Cinema. He wanted Indian filmmaking to be a respectable profession. He thus stipulated that Bombay Talkies would only hire graduates. He hoped this move would legitimize the Indian film industry of the thirties and forties, and it certainly did. Besides this,Shri. Dube also wanted the Indian film industry to be inclusive of Indians from all states and sectors of life. Even though the movie company worked with European technicians, Shri. Dube would bring on Indian technicians and make sure that they learnt the art of moviemaking. He also brought a lot of Indian writers onboard so that movies could have an Indian cultural sensitivity and thus could appeal to a large amount of people. This move gave rise to a whole new Indian profession, movie making! This seemed to be a good move in the light of circumstances that were yet to arrive.
During one scene in the movie Karma, there was a minute long kissing scene between Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani onscreen. This caused quite a stir in Indian society then. Shri. Rajnarayan Dubewas furious about him not being informed about this scene. Himanshu Rai, reportedly ‘held his ears' and said that it would not happen again. Shri. Dube, however, resolved to screen all films by himself before they could be released. He was a Brahman and a conservative and strictly discouraged smoking, drinking and other vices in the studio premises. He was also a very caring employer for those pioneering people who worked at Bombay Talkies. He made sure that Education, Rent, Food and other daily necessities were provided free of cost to employees of Bombay Talkies. He also championed the rights of of the movie industry by setting up Unions and Associations such as IMPA (of which Bombay Talkies was the first member). He also helped grow the regional film industry. He staunchly supported Marathi, Hindi, Bengali and Southern cinema. If it wasn't for Shri. Dube, the Indian movie industry would have resembled other Southeast Asian movie industries from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Bollywood today is big enough to compete with Hollywood movies.
During the second world war, Bombay Talkies was struggling. The war had made things very difficult in many ways. The company had several movies on the floor but they could not get them finished because the crucial German technicians had been arrested and detained by the British Government. At this point, 15-20 films were on the production floor and were stalled pretty badly. Himanshu Rai suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of this and passed away in 1940. Bombay Talkies had just lost its crucial founder on whose vision the entire company stood to be successful. Shri.Rajnarayan Dube decided that Rai's vision for Indian cinema would continue and he again invested four lakh ten thousand rupees into the venture. This injected some much needed blood into the company and a new era of Indian film making began. Shri. Dube decided that from that moment on, Bombay Talkies would only hire Indian technicians and production professionals.
In this second phase, the company boomed and went on to a very productive cinematic run. The 1943 hit Kismet was getting rave reviews everywhere and managed to run in theatres for 3 and a half years in 90% of the Indian theatres and collected Rs.63crores. By comparing the value of gold and land by today's standards, the movie made the equivalent of Rs.34000 crores. Not one movie has broken this record in terms of business. By 1954, Bombay Talkies had put its name to a huge amount of work. It had produced 102 films, had introduced 280 new talents, built 400 theatres across the country and had financed more than 700 films. At this time Shri. Rajnarayan Dube decided that he and his company had arrived at the goal that they had set out to complete two decades earlier. Indian films were now a major force in terms of communication and entertainment in post-independence India. Shri. Dube shut down Bombay Talkies in 1954 so that he could pay more attention to other aspects of his business.