In a major discovery for film buffs, the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) has obtained a 1930 black-and-white silent film “Madhabi Kankan“, shot by two foreign technicians, from Paris-based Cinematheque Francaise, Paris a top official said here on Wednesday.
This is the second Indian silent film to be found in recent years which added to the NFAI’s meagre collection of 31 surviving films of the silent era when around 1,300 films were believed to have been made.
In 2018, it had acquired the footage of “Bilwamangal” (1919) from Cinematheque Francaise, NFAI Director Prakash Magdum said.
“Madhabi Kankan” (Agra Slavegirl) was produced by Madan Theatres Ltd, Kolkata, and was directed by Jyotish Bannerjee. The film starred Nawab, Mumtaz Begum, Lalita Devi, Bhanu Bannerjee, Leelavati, Jainarayan Mukherjee and Farida Begum.
After the release, “Madhabi Kankan” was banned, then re-censored and released again in 1932, for reasons not clear, and only 13 minutes of its digitised footage now survives, said Magdum.
It was shot by two foreigners — Charles Creed and Marconi — for Madan Theatres Ltd, which was one of the biggest companies during the silent films era, but nothing has remained in terms of its productions, barring the two aforementioned films.
Adapted from R.C. Dutt’s famed Bengali novel, the plot of “Madhabi Kankan” revolved around the historical events of the 17th century when the sons of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan fought for his throne.
While leading star of the silent films era Nawab portrays the role of Emperor Shah Jahan, Mumtaz Begum enacts the role of Jahanara, and one of the surviving scenes shot shows the Taj Mahal in the background with the River Yamuna flowing by.
The ‘Filmland’ magazine, in its 1933 edition, had taken note of the film and said: “If not for any other merits, this picture certainly claims a high place for its superb locations.”
Magdum said since the footage of “Madhabi Kankan” film does not have credits or inter-titles, they are seeking assistance from historians and appealed to all others to come forward and help with such films, footages, posters, books, pictures, songs, etc to preserve them for posterity.
After the discovery of “Bilwamangal” in 2017, the NFAI was searching for other such silent era Indian films and learnt of “Madhabi Kankan” which is now in its possession, Magdum added.
“This is a rare and wonderful find from the early Indian cinema point of view, and will give a fillip to film studies and research on Indian film history,” he said.