Home Books The Way We Were: Premchand’s lost months in Bombay

The Way We Were: Premchand’s lost months in Bombay


Premchand arrived in Bombay on 31 May 1934. He was 54 years previous, married with three kids, the nation’s most well-known residing Hindi author – and a person in dire monetary difficulties. The losses had been piling up on the Saraswati Press he’d been working since 1923; and his two weekly publications, Hans and Jagran, had been bleeding cash. On the eve of his departure to Bombay, he wrote to a buddy, “A drowning man was extended a hand, and has grasped at it.” The serving to hand was the provide of a one-year contract by a movie firm, Ajanta Cinetone – a considerably pressing, persistent provide, they despatched him two telegrams — to put in writing tales for movies, for which he could be paid eight thousand rupees. (He was so exhausting up, he didn’t even have cash for the fare to Bombay – his ever-resourceful spouse Shivrani Devi gave him 100 rupees that she’d saved.)

But Premchand left Bombay in lower than a 12 months.

What occurred throughout that point? On the event of his 140th beginning anniversary (which was on 31 July), it’s price this singular chapter in Premchand’s life for various causes. For one, a lot of what he mentioned in regards to the movie trade rang eerily true for many years. Second, the destiny of the one movie he labored on is dramatic sufficient to advantage a narrative of its personal – and certainly has been studied by each movie historians and Premchand students. Mill/ Mazdoor, Ajanta Cinetone’s reasonable movie in regards to the conflict between a dissolute mill proprietor and his employees, was banned throughout the nation by the British authorities. And lastly, there was Premchand the author’s personal private journey — his Bombay stint revealed what ought to have been a foregone conclusion. This quite simple man who lived for his sahitya and got here from the extremely literary milieu of Banaras, discovered no happiness in both the industrial world of Hindi movies, or an enormous impersonal metropolis.

Shivrani Devi recounts how Premchand didn’t sleep the night time earlier than the journey to Bombay, afraid he would miss the prepare which was on the unearthly hour of 4am, and in addition as a result of he was upset on the prospect of going alone. Shivrani Devi was not accompanying him — she had two weddings to attend in Allahabad; he would lastly go to fetch her solely in July. But she felt a critical pang at his departure too, and in her e book, Premchand Ghar Mein, about her life along with her well-known author husband, she describes how, after he left, she went as much as her room and wept for one hour.

Soon after he arrived in Bombay (it was a three-day lengthy prepare journey these days), he wrote to her, grumbling about how he felt so alone and lonely. (“It is a very fine place, with clean roads and airy houses, but I don’t like it here.”) He rented a three-bedroom flat in Dadar for 50 rupees a month and ate his meals by himself at a close-by lodge.

Two books — Amrit Rai’s biography of his father, Kalam ka Sipahi (translated into English by Harish Trivedi), and a literary biography by the person also known as ‘Premchand’s Boswell,’ Madan Gopal — recount Premchand’s Bombay days, whereas Shivrani Devi’s account offers a number of illuminating and endearing home particulars of his keep there.

Given his work ethic, Premchand diligently went to the studio every single day. He was writing Mill/Mazdoor, and dealing with the German-trained director Mohan Bhavnani. Talkies had come to India three years in the past (Alam Ara, 1931), and after a predominance of mythological and devotional cinema, it was now time for the social movie.

Mill/Mazdoor fell in this bracket: A mill proprietor leaves his textile mill to his son and daughter. But the son is a debauch with out a take care of employees’ welfare. His sister, the precise reverse, is in love with a mill employee, and leads the employees in a strike towards her brother.

Premchand was persuaded to play a cameo and the movie was shot on location at a cotton mill, uncommon for the time.

About Mill/Mazdoor, Premchand wrote to his buddy, the Hindi author Jainendra, “I can say, it’s mine, I can also say, it’s not mine…. The director is all in the all in the film industry. The writer may be the master of the pen but this empire is that of the director.”

When the movie went to the Censor Board to be licensed, it confronted outright rejection. Apparently, Byramjee Jeejeebohy, president of the Bombay Mill Owners Association and, by the way, a member of the Censor Board, was the person behind the choice. Luckily, the movie was cleared for launch (with one lower) by the native Censor Board in Punjab, however on the primary day itself a crowd of just about 60,000 employees arrived on the theatre, and big crowds continued to show up all through the primary week. The police and armed forces had been referred to as in and the Punjab authorities banned the movie. The same destiny befell Mill/Mazdoor in Delhi when – impressed by the movie — a mill employee lay down in entrance of an proprietor’s automotive! Eventually the federal government of India banned the movie altogether. Though – in retaining with Premchand’s Gandhian views — the movie advocated peaceable protest towards the mill proprietor, and stood for amicable partnership between the placing employees and proprietor, it was thought-about too harmful. Also, it depicted the mill proprietor in an unflattering mild, as a violent man who despatched thugs to interrupt up the strike and customarily spent his time ingesting and womanising.

The movie’s sad destiny in a way mirrored Premchand’s personal less-than blissful life in Bombay – although he now had his anchor, his spouse, with him. Shivrani Devi describes his routine in town: he would go for a stroll at 5 in the morning, eat breakfast by 7.30, then restore to his room to work. Often, guests would drop in right now. After lunch he would set off for the studio. And he would work on his e book late at night time. Sometimes, when she awoke at two or two thirty at night time, she would see the sunshine burning in his room. Even so, he wasn’t making a lot headway with the novel (Godaan). He had additionally began smoking an excessive amount of and his well being, at all times delicate, had begun slipping. By December 1934, he was fed up. He wrote to a buddy: “I had come into this line as I saw in it some prospects of achieving economic independence, but I can see now that I was mistaken and I am returning to literature again.”

He additionally had his personal reasonably uncomplimentary evaluation in regards to the movie trade: “It is useless to expect any reform in Hindi movies… Those who control it… are concerned only with profit.” He referred to as it “a great money-making machine.” In his phrases: “I had gone there with certain ideals but I found that the cinema people have certain readymade formulas and what lies outside those formulas is taboo.” The tenet of the movie trade was to supply what the patron needed. Though he did imagine that the general public needed to see different tales too – tales of affection, sacrifice and friendship. But when movies had been filled with “naked dancing” and “public kissing,” there wasn’t a lot hope!

Despite the destiny of Mill/Mazdoor, Ajanta Cinetone provided one other contract to Premchand – they needed to ship him to England for a 12 months, as a part of their plans for enlargement, and pay him ten thousand rupees for 4 or 5 tales. But Shivrani Devi wouldn’t hear of him going abroad. Himanshu Rai of Bombay Talkies additionally made him a proposal, however by then, Premchand had had sufficient – of the flicks, of movie writing, of town. He longed to be again in Banaras, engaged on his novels and brief tales, near his sons who had been learning in Allahabad, surrounded by his like-minded literary associates. (Madan Gopal writes that there was additionally a proposal to edit a Hindi each day in Bombay, however Shivrani Devi put her foot down.)

It wasn’t shocking that Ajanta Cinetone or Bombay Talkies needed to supply contracts to Premchand. There was his fame as a author after all. But there was a extra fundamental subject right here. After talkies had been launched, the trade wanted Hindi writers and lyricists. In a metropolis dominated by non-Hindi talking folks, it was pure that the writers would come from the north, significantly UP – the United Provinces because it was referred to as then. (In a letter to Jainendra, Premchand wrote that the folks he handled knew neither Hindi nor Urdu. “I have to tell them the meaning of the story by translating it into English.”) Many of the writers and poets who got here stayed on and carved profitable careers for themselves; many left after brief stints.

By the third week of April 1935, Premchand was again in Banaras, the place he lastly completed Godaan, his final masterpiece. Though monetary issues continued to canine him, he soldiered on, as he at all times had, proper as much as his loss of life in October subsequent 12 months. And what of Mill/Mazdoor? The print can’t be discovered; the movie is lost eternally.

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