[Reader-list] 2nd posting

Sarai Independet Fellowship ifellow at sarai.net
Tue Apr 27 13:19:37 IST 2004

The Forgotten Empire: The Madan Theatres Pvt. Ltd.

Biren Das Sharma

If the very term ‘film industry’ denotes ‘an economic system, a way (or 
ways) of organizing the structure of production, distribution, and 
consumption’ of films in a given society, then the study of a specific 
film industry naturally demands attention to ‘product conventions and 
production conventions’ as Janet Staiger has suggested. So far as the 
Indian film industry is concerned, the name of J. F. Madan is 
archetypical of Indian film industry’s phenomenal growth in the first 
decades of 20th century. As a young entrepreneur J. F. Madan came to 
ventured in the film business around 1903 with tent show of films 
imported from abroad and eventually established a giant empire that had 
spread its wings all over the Indian subcontinent.

The Madan Theatre was pioneer in many ways: it built the first permanent 
cinema hall in Calcutta in 1912, produced the first Bengali feature film 
in 1917, engaged contemporary eminent theatre personalities like Dani 
Babu, Sishir Bhaduri, Naresh Mitra and Ahindra Chowdhury in film 
productions, employed Anglo-Indian actresses for the first time in India 
and created silent stars like Patience Cooper. The company was pioneer 
in even using filmed scenes in its own theatrical productions as early 
as in 1920s. There was a time when Madan Theatre Private Limited either 
owned or controlled more than 300 cinema houses all over the Indian 
subcontinent. The company produced the first Bengali sound film in early 
1930s and was also the producer of famous musical Indrasabha which had 
more than seventy songs in it. For three decades, the company virtually 
controlled the entire film business in India by producing, distributing 
and exhibiting films all over the subcontinent. Last but not the least, 
Madan Theatres was also pioneered in importing not only foreign films 
for the Indian market but also all kinds of equipments including camera, 
editing and sound recording machines. No doubt, the company had a 
lasting influence on the film business as it introduced several trade 
rules such as block booking and minimum guaranty. The company, with its 
vast network of show houses, came very close to the British Government 
who on several occasions used the network to promote its own propaganda 
film. On the other hand, other smaller companies who had found it 
difficult to compete with criticized the Madan’s trade practice and 
sought intervention from the British Government. The Film Enquiry 
Committee of 1926-27 debated at length Madan’s unabashed trade practice 
and recorded many complains, objections and suggestions. The business of 
the Madan’s was so lucrative that even the Universal Studios of 
Hollywood once wanted to buy it. I am presently engaged in recovering 
data on Madan’s film trade and hope to study its phenomenal growth as an 
economic system and also as culture industry. I hope to highlight some 
of the specific working practices of the company and its monopolistic 
control over the film industry more minutely in my next posting.

More information about the reader-list mailing list