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100 years of Indian cinema: Tent cinema returns with Hunterwali,rare silent movies

Propped up with the old tent paraphernalia the audience is 'living' the days of the beginning of cinema.

Tent cinema has returned to the Capital thanks to the ongoing Indian cinema centenary festival where the audience is enjoying the escapades of the legendary Hunterwali in a 1940s talkie and rare silent films like Diler Jiger or Gallant Hearts (1931).

Propped up with the old tent paraphernalia,the wooden benches and the floor mats,the audience aged from 5 to 75 are having a gala time ‘living’ the olden days of the beginning of cinema in India.

Famous as Indian silver screen’s first stunt queen,Fearless Nadia as Mary Evans became popularly known later,earned the nickname for her intrepid and swashbuckling tricks on the screen as iconised in classics like Hunterwali (1935),Miss Frontier Mail (1936),Hurrican Hansa (1937),Hunterwali Ki Beti (1943) among others.

Hunterwali Ki Beti,screened at the tent facility erected here in a homage to the pioneering days of Indian cinema,was quite a hit with the audience.

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Gallant Hearts,a rare silent classic from 1931,the same year the first Indian talkie Alam Ara was born,was also screened at the festival.

Septuagenarian and film collector O P Mago,who grew up in Lahore watching Punjabi films in tents and later afterPartition in Ludhiana and Delhi,was delighted to witness the “good old days” again.

“I have seen Punjabi films in tent cinema and later in Ludhiana too. In Delhi,I remember seeing Dev Anand’s Taxi Driver (1954). Among the silent films,I really liked the acting in Gallant Hearts as the action kept me hooked on to it,” Mago said.


Gallant Hearts,said to be inspired by Hollywood’s Douglas Fairbanks starrer silent Thief of Baghdad (1924),is also one of the rare surviving prints of the early silent era,made by ‘Agrawal Film Company of Poona’. The other being Fall of Slavery or Gulaminu Patan (1931) which was also screened.

Another audience member,Lyle Pearson,72,who came to India first in the 1970s and befriended National Film Archives of India’s (NFAI) founder-director P K Nair,recalled the days of tent cinema in south India with much glee.

“I have researched Indian cinema for the last 40 years after I came here in the 70s. That time I saw Tamil films in tent cinema in Madras (now Chennai) and though I couldn’t understand the language I still enjoyed it.


“And,I enjoyed watching Fall of Slavery and Gallant Hearts and Phalke’s Kaliya Mardan. History must be preserved and enjoyed by the next generation,” Pearson said.

Film historian and curator Amrit Gangar,a core member of the team behind the centenary exhibition,recreated the same atmosphere by calling everyone with “Come Come,see Indian of 1920s and 1930s and feel the magic of silent era.” Like the old days,the name of the films were written on a blackboard with Housh Full,misspelt intentionally to evoke the lost era.

In India,among the pioneers of tent cinema,the most important name is that of J F Madan,a Parsi businessman who started ‘Elphinstone Bioscope Company’ in early 20th century in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and would do tent shows in the Maidan there. He later started the cinema halls by the name of ‘Elphinstone Picture Palaces’.

His ‘Elphinstone’ was also one of the few Indian companies,among other European production houses,which filmed the historic 1911 Delhi Durbar attended by King George V and Queen Mary.

His legend has survived today in the form of various ‘Elphinstone’ theatres spread across India.

First published on: 29-04-2013 at 15:17 IST
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