Tent cinema has returned to the
Capital thanks to the ongoing Indian cinema centenary festival
where the audience is enjoying the escapades of the legendary
Hunterwali in a 1940s talkie and rare silent films like
Diler Jiger or Gallant Hearts (1931).
Propped up with the old tent paraphernalia, the wooden
benches and the floor mats, the audience aged from 5 to 75 are
having a gala time 'living' the golden days of the beginning of
cinema in India.
Famous as Indian silver screen's first stunt queen,
'Fearless Nadia' as Mary Evans became popularly known later,
earned the nickname for her intrepid and swashbuckling tricks
on the screen as iconised in classics like Hunterwali (1935),
Miss Frontier Mail (1936), Hurrican Hansa (1937),
Hunterwali Ki Beti (1943) among others.
Hunterwali K Beti, screened at the tent facility
erected here in a homage to the pioneering days of Indian
cinema, was quite a hit with the audience.
Gallant Hearts, a rare silent classic from 1931, the
same year the first Indian talkie Alam Ara was born, was
also screened at the festival.
Septuagenarian and film collector O P Mago, who grew up
in Lahore watching Punjabi films in tents and later after
Partition in Ludhiana and Delhi, was delighted to witness the
"good old days" again.
"I have seen Punjabi films in tent cinema and later in
Ludhiana too. In Delhi, I remember seeing Dev Anand's Taxi
Driver (1954). Among the silent films, I really liked the
acting in Gallant Hearts as the action kept me hooked on to
it," Mago told PTI.
Gallant Hearts, said to be inspired by Hollywood's
Douglas Fairbanks starrer silent Thief of Baghdad (1924), is
also one of the rare surviving prints of the early silent era,
made by 'Agrawal Film Company of Poona'. The other being Fall
of Slavery or Gulaminu Patan (1931) which was also screened.
Another audience member, Lyle Pearson, 72, who came to
India first in the 1970s and befriended National Film Archives
of India's (NFAI) founder-director P K Nair, recalled the days
of tent cinema in south India with much glee.
"I have researched Indian cinema for the last 40 years
after I came here in the 70s. That time I saw Tamil films in
tent cinema in Madras (now Chennai) and though I couldn't
understand the language I still enjoyed it.
"And, I enjoyed watching Fall of Slavery and Gallant
Hearts and Phalke's Kaliya Mardan. History must be
preserved and enjoyed by the next generation," Pearson told
Film historian and curator Amrit Gangar, a core member of
the team behind the centenary exhibition, recreated the same
atmosphere by calling everyone with "Come Come, see Indian of
1920s and 1930s and feel the magic of silent era." Like the
old days, the name of the films were written on a blackboard
with "Housh Full", misspelt intentionally to evoke the lost
In India, among the pioneers of tent cinema, the most
important name is that of J F Madan, a Parsi businessman who
started 'Elphinstone Bioscope Company' in early 20th century
in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and would do tent shows in the
Maidan there. He later started the cinema halls by the name of
'Elphinstone Picture Palaces'.
His 'Elphinstone' was also one of the few Indian
companies, among other European production houses, which
filmed the historic 1911 'Delhi Durbar' attended by King
George V and Queen Mary.
His legend has survived today in the form of various
'Elphinstone' theatres spread across India.