1920s Cinemas and Movies: Episode 7 (Part 1)

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.

Rudolph Valentino
TE Lawrence

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.

Balraj Sahni

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.