This is the longest episode yet (just over one hour) but its an important one. It tells the story of the Parsi community and the amazing role is has played in the development of Bombay as the commercial and entertainment capital of India and introduces you to a number of influential Parsi business people who were instrumental in getting what we now call Bollywood and Lollywood off the ground.
The episode starts with the figure of Zardosht, or Zarathusthra, the ancient Persian religious leader and thinker who is said to have been the most influential religious teacher ever.
We look at how the Zoroastrians were nearly wiped off the pages of history by the invading Arabs who brought a new religion, Islam to the world, but how a tiny refugee community of Persians found asylum on the West Coast of India. From this vulnerable position the small Parsi community grew into India’s premier business and philanthropic group.
We meet the gentleman pictured above, one of Bombay’s original powerbrokers, the shipbuilder and Master Builder, Bomanjee Wadia and talk about the centrality of his family in the history of South Asian cinema.
You’ll learn about Parsi Theatre, the direct link to the movies in India. The Parsis used the fortunes they made from shipbuilding and opium trading to develop the city and civic culture of Bombay and Karachi and in the process became famous for their public charity, their civic-mindedness as well as adventurous, entrepreneurial approach to business.
From 1902 onwards Jamshetji Framji Madan, the guy with the SAMPLE ONLY stamped across this chin, above, was the dominant, domineering force in the Indian movie business. Using money made from a liquor supply business he established India’s first film empire and came to control 50% of all revenue generated by the industry in the 1920s not to mention hundreds of cinema halls across South Asia.
Two great great grandsons of the Wadia clan, turned their backs on the family textile business, and in 1933 set up their own film studio, Wadia Movietone which captured the hearts of millions of Indians with their fast paced action and stunt films. One of their biggest stars was the Australian glamour-puss, Mary Evans, popularly known as Fearless Nadia.
And this is just the top of the iceberg. Download or listen at the Episode page or wherever you get your podcast fix. (Don’t forget to tell your friends and leave a good review! This is a unique podcast and the word deserves to get out!)
Select resources used for this episode include:
Palsetia, J. S. (n.d.). The Parsis of India: Preservation of Identity in Bombay. an excellent book that traces the history of the Parsi community and its association with the city of Bombay (Mumbai).
Kriwaczek, Paul. (2003) In Search of Zarathustra: Across Iran and Central Asia to Find the World’s First Prophet. Absolutely essential (and fun) reading on the importance of Zoroastrian thought on western (and to some extent, Islamic) thought.
Kermani, R. (n.d.). Parsis : The Builders of Karachi. A brief article on the historic Parsi community in Karachi
Balme, C. (2015). Managing Theatre and Cinema in Colonial India: Maurice E. Bandmann, J.F. Madan and the War Films’ Controversy. Popular Entertainment Studies, 6, 6–21. Important and illuminating article on the relationship between Maurice Bandmann and JF Madan, two of India’s great entertainment entrepreneurs