National Film Archive of India (NFAI) has acquired the footage of the Indian silent film, Bilwamangal (1919), from Cinematheque Francaise, France. The film produced by Elphinstone Bioscope, later renamed Madan Theatres Ltd, in Calcutta, was directed by Rustomji Dotiwala. NFAI has acquired 594 mts, 28 minutes of footage at 18 fps, of this film. The film was originally 12,000 feet (approximately 132 minutes).
“This has been a wonderful addition to the NFAI collection,” said Prakash Magdum, Director, NFAI, adding, “I wish to thank Cinematheque Francaise with whom I was in touch to acquire this Indian film. NFAI will be returning this gesture by providing them a digital copy of the Indian silent film, Jamai Babu (1931), directed by Kalipada Das, from our collection as per mutual exchange policy under FIAF framework.”
The NFAI director said, “Bilwamangal is a landmark acquisition for NFAI as there was no trace of work of studio JF Madan available in India. With this acquisition, NFAI now possesses in its collection films representing three important Indian studios of the silent era — Madan, Kohinoor and Hindustan. Each of these studios had a prolific output, making nearly a hundred films each in the silent era. This acquisition is important for NFAI at a juncture when we are in the process of implementing the National Film Heritage Mission to safeguard the country’s cinematic heritage.”
The last silent films NFAI acquired were from Kolhapur during 1996, titled Murliwala, Sati Savitri and Maya Bazar, directed by Baburao Painter. India has produced nearly 1,300 silent films between 1913 and 1932, most of which were lost due to its nitrate base. Nearly 28 silent films, though incomplete, have been preserved in NFAI’s storage facilities since then.
Bilwamangal starred Miss Gohur and Dorabji Mewawala and was produced by Elphinstone Bioscope Company, which made its first film, Satyavadi Raja Harischandra, in 1917. The film was directed by Rustomji Dotiwala .
Described as “the story of a man’s ruinous obsession with a courtesan”, the film was adapted from a popular retelling of the legend. The character of Bilwamangal was played by Mewavala while Gohur, the greatly popular Parsi theatre actress, played the role of the courtesan Chintamani. In the film, Gohur appears in a long dance sequence where her prowess as a performer is clearly on display. The story of the transformation of the philandering Bilwamangal into saint poet Bhakta Surdas fascinated a number of filmmakers during the period.
Bilwamangal was remade in the talkie era by JJ Madan in 1932 with Patience Cooper, Kajjan and Nawab playing the principle characters.
In 1929, Kohinoor Film Company released Bilwamangal directed by Homi Master.