If you were a resident of Lahore in the 1920s—the first decade when movies truly began to catch the public’s imagination—what sort of movies were you able to watch?
From our last episode we learned that throughout the 1920s Lahore was home to between 6 and 9 cinema halls scattered across the city. Depending on where the cinema was located, you would have a good idea of what sort of movies you could expect. In the andarooni shahr (inner walled city) around Taxali and Bhatti Gates, you’d catch movies that had previously been shown in the better cinema halls around McLeod Rd or on the Mall, the wide shaded boulevard that dominated the European/modern part of Lahore.
And of course, the venues themselves would differ radically. At the Regal on Mall Road you’d have heavy chandeliers in the lobby and a full bar with uniformed bartenders upstairs. In the kutcha, tin shacks in the working-class parts of the city you’d sit on the floor or a rickety bench and probably get wet if it rained too hard.
The vast majority of movies exhibited in Lahore’s movie halls were foreign. More precisely they were American. Made in Hollywood. A few were imported from France, Germany and Britain but Hollywood was the behemoth that ruled the roost.
Hollywood stars like Charlie Chaplin, Pearl White, Douglas Fairbanks and especially Rudolph Valentino who often wore ‘oriental’ costumes were immensely popular in Lahore. The film, Orphans of the Storm told the story of an Englishwoman who was abducted by a lecherous aristocrat, was banned in Punjab out of fear Indians might get ideas!
Though American movies made up of 85% of the films shown in Lahore (and across India) audiences really preferred Indian movies. But they were more expensive to make and there were relatively few Indians who had the technical skills to operate the cameras. Despite this, more than 1300 silent films were produced in India between 1913-1934. Very few have survived the decades but one of the most famous and best regarded that has survived is the Light of Asia/Prem Sanyas which tells the story of the life of Buddha.
It was an Indian-German production with financing from a Lahore High Court justice [Sir Justice Motilal Sagar], through the Great Eastern Film Corporation. The movie was more successful in Europe where it even had a special command performance for the King of England. In India it didn’t do so well but it was able to launch the careers of several famous Indian cinema figures like Himanshu Rai who went on to set up the iconic Bombay Talkies Studio in 1934.
Some sources that I have used to make this episode:
Sahni, B. (n.d.). Balraj Sahni: Autobiography. A wonderful read and full of great anecdotes and reflections by one of India’s greatest cinema actors.
Rangoonwalla, F. (n.d.). 75 Years of Indian Cinema.
Dwyer, R. (2002). Yash Chopra. In Yash Chopra. A biography of one of post Independence India’s greatest film makers. He and his brother BR Chopra were Punjabis who were educated in Lahore. This book has quite a bit of good information about B.R. Chopra’s time as a journalist and producer before 1947.
BHAUMIK, K. (n.d.). THE EMERGENCE OF THE BOMBAY FILM INDUSTRY 1913-1936. Immensely rich and valuable PhD thesis covering the growth of India’s film industry including in regional areas like Punjab and Lahore.
The photo above is from the 1930s and depicts the Karachi Picture House, one of the Pancholi family’s cinemas. The Pancholis were early film entrepreneurs in Karachi and Lahore and were operating cinemas to show a combination of American and Indian films from 1918. The first part of this Episode traces the rise of the first cinema exhibition venues in Lahore.
The first picture shows in Lahore were shown in shamiane (colourful cloth marquees) in open spaces like cricket pitches. By 1927 or so there were at least 7-9 dedicated cinemas in Lahore and 28 in the entire Punjab. Films were growing in popularity but still competed with other more established forms of entertainment (Parsi Theatre, music recitals, mujra, poetry readings) for the citizens’ hard earned money.
The above mind map which depicts 50 cinema halls in Lahore dating back to the 1920s can be seen in full size HERE
The episode begins with a scandalous story involving T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and the daughter of Harry Nedou, the Slovakian owner of the luxury Lahore hotel depicted above. Though Lawrence had no direct connection with films his image as a dashing European who disguised himself in ‘native’ costumes while on secret missions, definitely resonated with that of film audiences who loved the films of Rudolph Valentino, such as The Sheikh.
Balraj Sahni, one of post-Partition India’s most revered actors, grew up in Rawalpindi in the 1920s and studied at Government College Lahore in the 1930s. In his biography he related some hilarious incidents that give real insights into movie culture in this period.
Some resources I consulted in preparing this episode:
1927 Enquiry into Cinematograph report of India. (1928.). Absolutely essential resource. A gold mine of insight into the workings of the Indian film business and industry.
Volume II. Indian Cinematograph Committee 1927-1928 (Lahore, Peshawar): Vol. II. (n.d.). Subsection of the larger report that focuses on evidence gathered in Lahore and Peshawar
Indian-Cinematograph-Committee-1927-28-Vol-1.pdf (karachi). (n.d.). Subsection of the larger report that focuses on evidence gathered in Karachi
Sahni, B. (n.d.). Balraj Sahni: Autobiography. A wonderfully told memoir of one of India’s great dramatic actors and political activists.
Chatterjee, R. (2016). Cinema in Calcutta 1897-1939. Important PhD disseration full of information about the Calcutta-based movie industry including the role of JF Madan.
BHAUMIK, K. (n.d.). THE EMERGENCE OF THE BOMBAY FILM INDUSTRY 1913-1936. Another indispensable source of the Indian film industry in the early first decades.
In this episode we move the story forward to its main location and the source of the name Lollywood: Lahore.
To tell the full story of this legendary city would require a podcast of its own. Dozens of books have been written about the city over the years (some of which you can find references to below). Its history stretches beyond time and is chocker block with tales and legends. Some of the grandest historical and mythical names are associated with Lahore. In the time of the British Raj, Lahore was one of the half dozen most important cities of the subcontinent. So naturally, one little episode cannot do the city justice. But obviously, Lahore’s rich history will be referenced throughout the rest of the podcast. And hopefully in that way we will add some colour and nuance and detail to the very basic historic sketch I provide in this episode.
In this episode I’ve chosen to dwell mainly on the history of Lahore during the one hundred year period between 1849 and 1947. The period when Lahore became a vibrant colonial city and the birthplace of the Pakistani movie industry.
The origins of Lahore stretch back to one of the two foundational epics of India, the Ramayana. It is said that the two sons of Rama and Sita, Kush and Lav founded the cities of Kasur and Lahore. In fact, there is a still a shrine to Lav in the Lahore Fort!
Despite its hoary Hindu roots, and being described as early as 300 BCE by the Greek historian Megasthenes as a place ‘of great culture and charm’, Lahore’s greatest glory was experienced when it was the capital of various Muslim sultanates and states. Throughout the medieval period when northern India was ruled by a succession of ethnic Turkish rulers who promoted a heavily Persianised culture, Lahore was a city of prime strategic, commercial and cultural significance.
During the time of the Mughals, Lahore was often the capital of the realm and really became a major Indian city. The famous tale of Anarkali, the Persian beauty who had an illicit relationship with Prince Salim (later Emperor Jahangir) is the legend most closely associated with the city.
Anarkali’s tomb was turned into Lahore’s first Anglican church, St. James, in 1850s and marks the spot from which the colonial city, home to Lollywood, grew up. Though the legend is not historical it has inspired many films, including a film made in Lahore in 1958 starring Noor Jehan and Sudhir.
The Sikhs, led by the very talented Maharaja Ranjit Singh, ruled Punjab for much of the 18th and early 19th from Lahore. They didn’t destroy the city but they didn’t exactly keep it up, so when the British took possession of Punjab in 1849, the area around the old walled city was pretty much in ruins.
As soon the British took over they began building on a new European style city and promoted it and developed it into the premier city in Northwest India. Lahore was famous not just for its history and stunning architecture but as a center for Urdu language publishing, study, education, communication. It was a massive railway junction and the biggest city between Istanbul and Delhi.
It was a city that was connected to the world and that attracted the brightest minds of North India. Known as a political hot spot, it also was the region’s main cultural center. With a wealthy middle class and an educated population it was no surprise that a movie-making industry should emerge.
Where McLeod Road crosses Abbott Road is Laxmi Chowk, the center of the Pakistani movie industry since it got started in the 1920s. Today it remains an important part of the industry and it history.
This episode provides an introduction to the city with the aim of demonstrating what a vibrant and vital city Lahore was in the colonial period.
Just some of the key references I used in preparing this episode are listed below.
Talbot, Ian and Kamran, Tahir, (2016) Colonial Lahore: A History of the City and Beyond, Hurst. An excellent survey of Lahore during the colonial period (1849-1947). Main argument is that Lahore was very well connected to the rest of India prior to the arrival of British and though it appeared ancient to the British, it was a lively and dynamic city that saw a rebirth under the Raj.
Suvarova, Anna, (2012) Lahore: Topophilia of Space and Place, Oxford University Press. An amazing book that explores Lahore through the lens of topophilia, the strong sense of place, which often becomes mixed with the sense of cultural identity among certain people and a love of certain aspects of such a place. Endlessly fascinating with a great chapter on the Anarkali legend and other similar stories from around the world.
Mir, Farina, (2010) The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab, University of California Press. Excellent resource for understanding the British policy towards Urdu and against Punjabi. A central theme that further episodes will explore.
Neville, Pran (1998) Lahore: A Sentimental Journey, HarperCollins India. A passionate recollection of a childhood and youth spent in Lahore prior to Partition.
Bakhle, Janaki, (2005) Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition, Oxford University Press. A provocative account of the development of modern national culture in India using classical music as a case study. Janaki Bakhle demonstrates how the emergence of an “Indian” cultural tradition reflected colonial and exclusionary practices, particularly the exclusion of Muslims by the Brahmanic elite, which occurred despite the fact that Muslims were the major practitioners of the Indian music that was installed as a “Hindu” national tradition. This book lays bare how a nation’s imaginings–from politics to culture–reflect rather than transform societal divisions.
NAIR, N. (2009). Bhagat Singh as ‘Satyagrahi’: The Limits to Non-violence in Late Colonial India. Modern Asian Studies, 43(3), 649–681.
Désoulières, A. (n.d.). Historical Fiction and Style: The Case of Anarkali
Harminder Singh. (2014). DEVELOPMENT OF PUNJABI JOURNALISM DURING FREEDOM STRUGGLE IN PUNJAB.
A list of movies made about Anarkali in both Pakistan and India.
Anarkali. (1928/Bombay) R. S. Choudhury [silent]
The Loves of a Mughal Princess. (1928/Lahore) Prafullla Roy and Charu Roy [silent]
This is the first of two episodes aimed at answering the question: why Lahore? Why did Lahore become a major movie making city? Not just in South Asia but in the world? On the surface there was no obvious reason for this to happen. In fact, there were a lot of circumstances working against Lahore. This episode and the next, which are both focused on discussing the cultural context and history of Lahore and the wider region known as Punjab, will help answer that important and fundamental question.
To truly appreciate the deep roots of Pakistani films it is essential to have an understanding of the shared culture of language, song, theatre, poetry, storytelling and visual art that has distinguished this part of South Asia for millennia. It is from this deep tradition that Pakistani films initially took inspiration and upon which they continue to draw. And why, despite the many attempts to legislate against and neglect the industry or even blow cinema halls up, Pakistanis keep making and watching movies.
This Episode provides a very concise survey of 5000 years of cultural history in the area that we know refer to Punjab. Starting with the Indus Valley civilisations through Vedic/Aryan India through the arrival of Alexander/Sikandar and the Muslim period.
The beautifully crafted soapstone seals with the as yet undeciphered Indus Valley language constitute the very first Indian story which was added to when around 1900 BCE Punjab was occupied by nomads from Central Asia who called themselves Aryans.
The Rg Veda told stories of Gods and demons as well as moral instruction in the form of pithy tales like the young gambler who loses everything to the dice.
In later centuries the Hindu epic, Mahabharata told in great detail and a cast of thousands the battled of various Punjabi clans for supremacy. Many of these early Indian stories, like one about Alexander and Poisoned Maiden, travelled across the world but were forgotten in their homeland of India. But in the 20th century filmmakers in Lahore were able to draw on the deep folk traditions which had kept many similar stories alive as inspiration for their films.
During the times of the Mughals, Persian tales such as Dastan-i-Amir Hamza which told stories of the Prophet’s (PBUH) uncle Hamza, were very popular.
The Episode provides details of more similar literary, music and dramatic traditions which all formed a rich shared culture that the film makers of Lahore drew on for inspiration to create what eventually came to referred to as Lollywood.
Some of the key references I used in preparing this episode are listed below.
Music Issue. (n.d.). Journal of Punjab Studies, 18. Immensely informative number on many aspects of Punjab’s musical culture.
Richardson, Edmund (2021), Alexandria: The Quest for the Lost City, Bloomsbury. Recent biography of Charles Masson the Company deserter who is credited as being the pioneer of Afghan archaelogy.
Schrefller, S. G. (n.d.). Vernacular Music and Dance of Punjab. Journal of Punjab Studies, 11(2).
Doniger, Wendy (2010) The Hindus: AnAlternative History, Penguin. Sweeping (and controversial to some) history of India’s greatest and most popular religion.
Whiterridge, Gordon (2002) Charles Masson Of Afghanistan: Explorer, Archaeologist, Numismatist and Intelligence Agent, Orchid Press
Joseph, Tony (2018). Early Indians : The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From, Juggernaut Publications. Excellent survey of the human settlement of the Indian subcontinent.
Mir, Farina (2010). The social space of language: Vernacular culture in British colonial Punjab. University of California Press. Farina Mir asks how qisse, a vibrant genre of epics and romances, flourished in colonial Punjab despite British efforts to marginalize the Punjabi language.
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
This episode continues to set the scene and provide important historical context to the story of Lollywood.
In particular this episode examines how Bombay rose to its dominant position as the commercial (and eventually, entertainment) capital of British India.
Between the 16th and 19th centuries the global economy and ‘world order’ went through some deep and profound changes. Qing (pronounced, Ching) Dynasty China was the number 1 economy and (not dissimilar to our times) was attracting the interest of businessmen and companies from Europe and America. These changes were driven by a bunch of plant based and mineral products: tea, silver and opium.
By the mid 19th century, a small island kingdom from northern Europe was the undisputed global superpower. And China, the giant of Asia, was reduced to a country of drug addicts, political insignificance and civil war. Of course, to achieve this the British had to inflict a lot of violence and political manipulation on the people of India and China. Ultimately, it got what it wanted–global domination–by launching a war to protect its drug smuggling racket.
As a direct consequence of these wars and illegal narcotics pedaling, the city of Bombay also rose to be the commercial heart of British India. By the early 20th century, the city was one of the main gems in a global garland of cities across Asia, Africa and South America, which international musicians, artists and performers visited regularly to entertain their European residents. The most popular sort of music during this period was American jazz. And throughout the 1930s a large number of African American jazz musicians worked regularly in the many clubs and dancehalls and hotels of Bombay (and other Indian cities, including Lahore and Karachi).
One American jazz musician in particular, Teddy Weatherford, the pianist, was a superstar in Bombay and Calcutta. He settled down in India, married a local girl and died in Calcutta in 1945. His time in Bombay exemplifies the ‘glamour’ and international relevance of Bombay (Mumbai) around the time movies were just starting to take off.
Go to the Episodes Page of this website (or Apple, Spotify, Stitcher etc) to hear the full episode. And don’t forget to subscribe, leave a positive review and spread the news. Thanks.
Select resources consulted for or referenced in this episode are mentioned below.
Greenberg, M. (n.d.). British Trade and the Opening of China 1800-42. An excellent, highly informative book on how the combination of England’s thirst for tea and the “country trade” in Indian opium gave rise to Britain as the global commercial and political power.
Farooqi, A. (2006). BOMBAY: A COLONIAL PORT IN SEARCH OF BUSINESS. In Opium City Anything by Farooqi is essential to understand how the Malwa opium trade shaped and drove the rise of Bombay as India’s premier commercial center.
Farooqui, A. (2016). The Global Career of Indian Opium and Local Destinies.
Farooqui, A. (1995). Opium enterprise and colonial intervention in Malwa and western India, 1800-1824. Indian Economic & Social History Review, 32(4), 447–473.
Zhuang, G. (1993). Tea, Silver, Opium and War: The International Tea Trade and Western Commercial Expansion Into China in 1740-1840 A Chinese perspective on this topic. Full of excellent quantitative statistics.
Deming, S. (2011). THE ECONOMIC IMPORTANCE OF INDIAN OPIUM AND TRADE WITH CHINA ON BRITAIN’. the title of this fascinating article says it all.
Fernandes, Naresh. City Adrift : A Short Biography of Bombay One of India’s most respected journalist’s tells the story of his beloved city.
Budetti, D. V. (2016). From Silver to Opium : A Study of the Evolution and Impact of the British-Chinese Trade System from 1780 to 1842
Bassett, N. (1970). Teas Empire Opium and the Price of Tea (Vol. 23, Issue 1863).
Haq, E. ul. (2001). Drugs in South Asia: from the opium trade to the present day South Asia.
Fernandes, Naresh. (2012). Taj Mahal Foxtrot: The Story of Bombay’s Jazz Age Indispensable resource–full of rare photographs–on the time when Bombay was a key part of the global jazz circuit.
Koerner, Brendan I. (2011). Piano Demon: The globetrotting, gin-soaked, too-short life of Teddy Weatherford, the Chicago jazzman who conquered Asia. Excellent article on Teddy Weatherford’s jazz career in Asia. Link
I’m really excited (not to mention a bit anxious) to announce that the first introductory episode of Lollywood Tales is now up and available from Apple, Stitcher,Spotify and other places you may get your podcasts.
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My intention is to post new episodes every two to three weeks for first several episodes. So please stay tuned. Share the news about this podcast and thank you for your patronage and support.
The day has finally arrived. The first episode (Introduction) of Lollywood Tales has now been uploaded and is available for download or listening on the Episodes page. And of course, it is live on Apple/iTunes, Spotify and most other places where you like to get your podcast fix.
I ask for your patience (hopefully not, interminable) with me as I finesse the technology of podcasting. For example, you’ll notice in the Trailer and Introduction, the intro and outro music is repeated (😒😂) and some of the transitions may be a bit a rough. But I promise, these will improve in coming episodes.
At this stage I aim to have a full episode up every two to three weeks. So the best thing to do is ‘Subscribe’ and get notified directly when a fresh or bonus episode is available.
Thank you for spreading the word about Lollywood Tales (even it is may not be something you’re interested in, some of your friends may enjoy it).
Lollywood Tales, a podcast about the incredible, untold story of the Pakistani movie industry is getting ready to launch. It will be available on all major podcast sites such as Apple, Spotify and Google.
You can subscribe and support the podcast and get access to premium / extra content and soon there will be branded merchandise available as well.
So stay tuned for Episode one in the very near future!