How Assam’s Jyotiprasad Agarwala almost became India’s first filmmaker

Author and filmmaker Parthajit Baruah has come up with his latest book ‘Jyotiprasad Joymoti Indramalati and Beyond: History of Assamese Cinema’.

As the name indicates, the book deals with the earlier days of filmmaking in Assam.

The author, known for his research-oriented works on Indian cinema, has travelled to different countries where Jyotiprasad Agarwala had visited to gather the information which were not available earlier.

‘Joymoti’ was Jyotiprasad Agarwala’s first film which was made in 1935 and apparently it is the first-ever film made in the Assamese language while ‘Indramaloti’ was the second.

The book mentions a special episode that could have made Jyotiprasad Agarwala, the first-ever Indian filmmaker.

We know that ‘Alam Ara’ is the first talkie in Indian cinema made in 1931. My book has discussed in detail how Jyotiprasad Agarwala, unlike Himanshu Rai, attempted to make a sound film, and that too, in UFA, Berlin. This part, which I have mentioned in my book, needs to be discussed elaborately at the national and international narrative.

The book had a formal launch in Nagaon recently.

Baruah has written several critically-acclaimed books including the biography of legendary Adoor Gopalakrishnan ‘Face to Face: The Cinema of Adoor Gopalakrishnan’ and has made several award-winning documentaries.

The author spoke to TheNewsMill on the occasion of his book launch.

Some of the excerpts:

Many congratulations. Your first reaction?

Parthajit Baruah: I am immensely happy because my four years of hard work on Jyotiprasad Agarwala, one of the pioneers of Indian cinema has been paid off. Another reason for my happiness is that Jyotiprasad Agarwala’s third daughter Satyashree Agarwala Das released the book. It is as if Jyotiprasad Agarwala himself came and blessed me.

What made you write a book on Jyotiprasad Agarwala? Do you think this type of work should have been done much before?

Parthajit Baruah: Probably it was in 2010 when I did a short-term course at FTII, Pune, I found that the professors did not mention the name of Jyotiprasad as the pioneer of Indian cinema.

I tried to find out the reason, why? I started searching for “Why”. Since then, I started reading on the history of Indian cinema and gradually realised that the Indian film historians are not aware of Jyotiprasad Agarwala as a filmmaker who attempted to make a sound film at UFA, Berlin.

I cannot tell you whether a book on Jyotiprasad as a filmmaker should been written before. But I can say that this book is the first research-oriented book on Jyotiprasad Agarwala, his two films that have been discussed in detail.

This book will be eye-opening for Indian film historians who are not aware of many things about him.

You have worked extremely hard to complete this book. You went to different places including Edinburgh to gather information on the pioneer filmmaker. Can you briefly share some of your experiences?

Parthajit Baruah: While I was doing a research project at the National Film Archive of India in 2017, I think, that was the moment I realised that I need to go to the University of Edinburgh. I believe, the formative period of Jyotiprasad as a filmmaker began at the University of Edinburgh.

The city has many historical theatre houses and Jyotiprasad used to watch Scottish ballet, opera. His favourite theatre hall in Edinburgh was the Usher Hall, and when he returned from Edinburgh, he brought with him the drawing of the hall.

I was speechless when I went to the Usher Hall and watched a musical function there. But yes, it was not easy to collect the data, and I had to follow my own innovative research methodology to find out the facts.

Many don’t know that Jyotiprasad almost became the first-ever Indian filmmaker. And you have mentioned that episode in detail in your book. Can you throw some light on that?

Parthajit Baruah: We know that ‘Alam Ara’ is the first talkie in Indian cinema made in 1931. My book has discussed in detail how Jyotiprasad Agarwala, unlike Himanshu Rai, attempted to make a sound film, and that too, in UFA, Berlin.

This part, which I have mentioned in my book, needs to be discussed elaborately at the national and international narrative. I believe, this book will help film critics and film historians to look at the Assamese cinema from a new perspective.

The book is significant for many reasons – Jyotiprasad Agarwala, who made the first Assamese film ‘Joymoti’ in 1935, submitted a film script titled ‘The Dance of Art’ at UFA, Berlin in 1930, which would have been the first talkie in India. But in the narratives of Indian cinema, Jyotiprasad Agarwala’s name is not mentioned.

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The News Mill is a Guwahati-based digital media with focus on content from across Northeast India and beyond. We can be reached through editor@thenewsmill.com

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