29 June 2015

CineVoice of the Nation

My Mumbai Mirror column yesterday:

Continuing my short history of the Indian film magazine in English: editor Burjor K Karanjia and his many publications.

In last week's column ("Stars, Scandals and Fandom", Jun 21, 2015), I began a short history of the English-language Hindi film magazine. Starting in the 1930s, I brought the story down to the 1970s, when a series of new magazines altered the tone and texture of Indian film journalism in English.

But in 1970, the highest-circulating English magazine about Hindi cinema was Filmfare. It was edited by the late Burjor K Karanjia, whose politeness, erudition and general gentlemanliness were legendary. Karanjia was an unlikely film journalist: a Parsi from Quetta, Karanjia qualified for the much-prized Indian Civil Service in 1943, but got quickly bored and decided to abandon a potential bureaucratic career to explore other options. 

In his memoir, Counting My Blessings (Penguin, 2005), he describes how his fascination with cinema, first kindled in his Wilson College years by a chance witnessing of Franz Osten directing the lovely Devika Rani on the sets of his film Always Tell Your Wife, grew into a serious interest in film journalism. Being from a moneyed family, the 27-year-old Burjor decided to enter the field by launching a magazine. (Burjor's brother Russi Karanjia had already founded the investigative news tabloid Blitz, to which Anurag Kashyap's Bombay Velvet recently paid fictional homage.) 

Cinevoice, launched on June 7, 1947 at the Taj Mahal Hotel, in a glittering ceremony attended by many film grandees, was meant to "represent the industry's point of view" and fight its battles, while also being, in Karanjia's own words, "a journal that was clean, that was constructive and that had a conscience". Among the 'battles' waged in the pages of Cinevoice was a campaign "to plead for social recognition of the film community". It may seem difficult to imagine in our Bollywood-besotted era, but in those days, writes Karanjia, "film stars found it difficult to secure flats in decent localities in the city. No club, moreover, would admit film stars as members." Motilal, and later David Abraham, were the first actors to be admitted to the Cricket Club of India. Cinevoice also tried to gain film folk respectability by marshalling them into national political participation. He credits his colleague Ram Aurangabadkar with the idea of getting three contemporary actresses - Nargis, Snehprabha Pradhan and Veera - to attend the first All India Congress Committee (AICC) session held after Independence, and report on it for Cinevoice

Karanjia is also credited with instituting a system of film awards as early as 1949 - the Cinevoice Indian Motion Picture Awards (CIMPA) - and for programming a live charity show to raise money for "Kashmir Relief and Troop Comforts", called "A Nite with the Stars." Neither of these ventures quite took off independently, but both live shows with the stars, and film awards (which Karanjia managed to run with greater success as Filmfare editor), have proliferated to such a degree that our cinematic culture is unimaginable without either. Cinevoice did not last long, and neither did Karanjia's other self-funded journalistic venture, Movie Times

Nutan on the cover of Filmfare, May 1970.
But with the editorship of Filmfare came a certain stability. The magazine was a commercial publication that gladly put Hema Malini or Rajesh Khanna or a bikini-clad Sharmila Tagore on the cover, but also allowed Karanjia the space to do what he had set out to in Cinevoice: represent the voice of the film industry. In the February 13, 1970 issue, while applauding the liberal attitude taken towards film censorship by the Khosla Committee Report, Karanjia's editorial called it out for equating commercial considerations with dishonesty, and wrote that the charge "betrays an ignorance of the many complex factors that have made film-making in India an adventure and a gamble, and that have attracted to it the wrong type of finance and the wrong type of filmmaker." 

Karanjia also combined in his person roles that today might seem impossibly divergent: he edited Filmfare for 18 years (and Screen for ten), while being Chairman of the Film Finance Corporation (FFC, later to become NFDC). The same February 13, 1970 issue of Filmfare, for instance, reported a press conference at which film director Basu Chatterjee discussed the film he had just finished shooting, with a loan from the FFC: Sara AkashChatterjee, the report noted, was a well-known Blitz cartoonist who had adapted Rajendra Yadav's Hindi novel into a film with an all-new cast and "a determination to steer away from songs, dances and other cliches of the Hindi cinema". 

The magazine quoted its own editor as having stated at the press conference that "Audiences, I think, are ready... The question no longer should be where these films will be screened, but what sort of films should now be made." The report went on: "The Corporation, he revealed, has already sent a proposal to the government for securing a network of theatres based not on opulence, but utility." 

Jaya Bhaduri on the cover of Filmfare, Dec 1972
As editor, he was credited with almost doubling Filmfare's circulation, and making a genuine effort to return the Filmfare Awards to their early prestige. He went on to write even sharper editorials for Screen.
Karanjia resigned from his position as FFC Chairman during VC Shukla's unsavoury reign as Minister for Information and Broadcasting during the Emergency, in January 1976 (though he did later become NFDC Chairman). But what distinguished BKK was a rare combination of traits: an enthusiasm for helping finance a new kind of cinema, but never being disdainful of commerce.

No comments: