ACMI exhibition Bombay Talkies captures the excitement and glamour of early Indian cinema with a treasure trove of artefacts collected by Himansu Rai, often referred to as the father of Bollywood cinema.
In 1934, after making three internationally successful silent films shot in India and co-produced with the German studio UFA, ambitious and entrepreneurial filmmaker Himansu Rai (1892-1940) and his movie-star wife Devika Rani (1908-1994) co-founded the legendary Bombay Talkies film studio. Releasing 40 films over 20 years the studio was one of India’s most innovative and highly resourced, launching the careers of several prominent luminaries including actor Ashok Kumar and director Raj Kapoor.
The exhibition showcases, for the very first time, the Dietze Family Trust archive, a Melbourne-based collection of 3000 cultural artefacts once owned by Rai. The archive is the most comprehensive collection of 1920s and 1930s Indian film studio ephemera in the world.
With lavish production values and a global outlook, Bombay Talkies was renowned for producing films on controversial topics such as the caste-system and women’s roles in Indian society. It is credited with introducing the musical narrative structure that characterises modern Bollywood.
Melburnian Peter Dietze inherited 3000+ items in the Bombay Talkies archive after discovering in his 30s that he wasn’t just German-Australian, but his grandfather was the famous Rai who co-founded Bombay Talkies film studio.
Image credit: Film still from Throw of Dice (Prapancha Pash), with Seeta Devi and Himansu Rai, 1929. Image courtesy of the Dietze Family Trust.
The Bombay Talkies exhibition is at ACMI, Gallery 2, Wednesday, 8 February to Sunday, 2 July 7. Entry is free.