India began making silent feature films in early 20th century. In 1912,
N.G. Chitre and R.G. Torney made the first silent feature film Pundalik,
which was half British in its make. The birth of India's first fully indigenous
silent feature film took place on May 3, 1913, when Bhundiraj Govind Phalke,
more popularly known as Dada Saheb Phalke, produced Raja Harishchandra.
The film had titles in Hindi and English and was released at the Coronation
Cinema, Bombay. Phalke followed with other feature films like Mohini
Bhasmasur (1913), Satyavan Savitri (1914) and Lanka Dahan
(1917), the last one being India's first big box-office hit. Two new film
companies, the Kohinoor Film Co. and Phalke's Hindustan Cinema Films Co. were
established in 1918.
By 1920 film-making transformed into a regular industry and the number of films
produced increased to 207 in 1931 from a mere 27 when the silent films were
started in India. The first Indian love story, Dhiren Ganguly's Bilat Ferat
(England Returned) was released in 1921. In the same year Kohinoor studios of
Bombay produced Bhakt Vidur, a chapter from Mahabharata. The new decade
saw the arrival of many new companies and film-makers. Baburao Painter (Savkari
Pash), Suchet Singh (Sakuntala), Chandulal Shah (Guna Sundari),
Ardershir Irani and V. Shantaram were the prominent film-makers of the twenties.
Some of the noteworthy silent films of the period were Madan's Nala
Damayanti (1921), Pati Bhakti (1922) and Noor Jehan
(1923); Baburao Painter's Maya Bazaar (1923), Kala Naag (1924)
and Cinema Queen (1926); Chandulal Shah's Bhaneli Bhamini
(1927); Ardeshir Irani's Anarkali (1928); V.Shantaram's Gopal
Krishna (1929); Jagdish Co's Chandramukhi (1929); Seth Manecklal
Patel's Hatim Tai (1929); SS Agarwal's Diler Jigar (1931) and
Gulaminu Patan (1931); Debaki Bose's Rajrani Meera (1933);
Ranjeet Co's Gunsundari (1934); Bombay Talkies' Achhut Kanya
(1936) and New Theatre's Street Singer (1938).
The film Amar Jyoti (1936) directed by V.Shantaram was the earliest
film to tackle the subject of women's emancipation. Fatima Begum, who was
perhaps the first Indian woman producer and director, released her film
Bulbul-e-Parastan in 1926. The first international co-production was with
Italy for making the film Nala Damayanti in 1921. The first Indo-German
co-production was Himansu Rai's Prem Sanyas/Light of Asia (1929) while
his A Throw of Dice (1930) was the second such co-production. Kohinoor
Production's Bhakta Vidur, which was banned in Madras in 1921, became
Indian cinema's first censorship controversy. Entertainment tax on film
exhibition first began to be levied in Calcutta in 1922 and then in Bombay in
the following year.
The silent films were of several genres like mythologicals, folklores,
historicals and fantasies. The silent films, however, were never completely
silent. Music and dance were the common accompaniments of the silent movies.
Silent movies were often seen in the theatres with the accompaniment of
harmonium, tabla, sarangi or violin. The silent films in India had the main
titles in English and a regional language.
The sub-titles were generally in four languages -- English, Gujarati, Hindi (or
Bengali, Marathi or Tamil) and Urdu. Although the silent film era of India
occurred under the British regime, censorship was limited to political films.
The British did not interfere with film-making as long as it did not interfere
with their rule. Thus, unlike today, scenes depicting kissing and lovemaking
were not considered as taboo. The earliest kissing scenes were depicted in films
like Pati Bhakti (1922), A Throw of Dice (1930) and Karma
Among the important actresses of the 1920s mention may be made of Patience
Cooper, Sinora Minelli, Sulochana (Ruby Meyers), Sita Devi (Renee Smith) and
Tara. D.Billimoria, Sampat, Himansu Rai, Charu Roy, V.Shantaram, Gohar and Raja
Sandow were among the important male leads of Hindi cinema.