[Reader-list] Madan Theatre Ltd

clapstick 2002 clapstick2002 at hotmail.com
Tue May 25 20:02:44 IST 2004

Madan Theatre Ltd: Knowing the Company Better
Posting by Biren Das Sharma

Madan and Sons entered in entertainment business in 1902 first by acquiring 
two theatre companies in Calcutta and then in the film exhibition. Jamshedji 
Framji Madan, a wine merchant who came to Calcutta from Bombay at the age of 
12, started its film venture in 1902, when he introduced tent shows of films 
in the maidan in the vicinity of the Esplanade. The films shown were all 
foreign imports. Earlier Madan had introduced glamourous Parsi theatre to 
the city of Calcutta for the first time and his own theatre house, the 
Corinthian Theatre, became a well-known place of popular entertainment. 
Parsi theatre introduced painted backdrops and all sorts of stage gimmicks 
with high production value and also cast women in female roles which was a 
taboo then. By 1910 Madan had constructed the first permanent show house in 
Calcutta and became a familiar name in the entertainment business. In 1916 
Mad produced the first Bengali feature film ‘Jamai Sasthi’ directed by 
Jyotish Banerjee who was the manager of the Corinthian Theatre. After the 
end of the First World War the company witnessed rapid growth and became a 
joint stock company in 1919. The Formation of the Madan Theatres Ltd indeed 
was an important event in the history of Indian cinema because in the 
following years the company developed into an empire. ‘By 1920, the total 
number of theatres either run solely on our accord or in association with us 
was 37. Besides this number, 14 theatres took films on hire from us. This 
makes our circuit 51 theatres in 1920’ said J. J. Madan, who was the 
managing director of the company. By the end of 1927 this had increased to 
85 of which 65 houses – each showing twice daily – were own by the company 
itself. Which meant that the company had a sole control on a quarter of all 
cinema halls in India.

The distribution of films in the 1920s were controlled by several 
distributors and importers including the Madan Theatres Ltd. There were two 
American distributors who were directly marketing films produced by their 
parent companies. In addition to feeding the companies own chain of cinema 
halls Madan also was supplying films to 20 Indian distributors regularly. In 
1927 the company took the initiative of importing the Furlitzer Theatre 
Organ, famous for its sound effects and music, for its own theatres spending 
over Rs. 65,000. The Company owned 10 cinema halls in the city of Calcutta 
alone each had nearly 30 to 40 employees. Altogether nearly 2500 persons 
were under the company’s payroll and were engaged in the film business 
alone. Around this time the Universal expressed its desire to buy the 
company and had offered a lucrative sum. J. J. Madan recalled, ‘ When I was 
abroad there was some talk of American as well as British houses buying our 
circuit. Well, it meant a great publicity for my firm and it enhanced the 
prestige and popularity of my firm.’

Madan Theatres Ltd was producing an average of 6 films per year and had list 
of nearly 60 films produced by the company itself till 1927. Among them Pati 
Bhakti, Jayadev and Ramayan was the most popular titles. Also produced 9 
educational films for other agencies and public bodies such as Bengal Public 
Health Department.  It would be interesting to note that the usual practice 
was to send the negatives of Indian film abroad and getting prints made 
there and shipped to India. The negative were not brought back immediately. 
>From 1925 to 1927 the company had censored a huge total of 5,629 reels – 
mostly films imported from America –  which was nearly 1200 more than its 
nearest competitor the Universal film Corporation of Bombay. Rental of films 
supplied to other exhibitors varied from Rs. 75 to Rs. 300 depending on the 
population of a particular locality. According to the company a cinema hall 
would not be a viable business if the local population was less that 40,000. 
Being the single largest importer the Madan enjoyed a significant control on 
the distribution and exhibition market in India. So far as imported prints 
were concerned the usual practice was to destroy the old prints and furnish 
the producer abroad an affidavit that the film had been destroyed.

Madan’s aggressive business policy drew a lot of criticism. Yet the 
company’s motto was simple enough, ‘Quality tempered with price in 
production will always determine the film market of the world. Excellence in 
product alone is the factor of success. Whose product? Anybody’s, any 
country’s product so long as it is best and at the right price.’

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