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Forgotten Silent Film From 1929 Finds New Audience

October 2007
Forgotten Silent Film From 1929 Finds New Audience

Speaking of Indian cinema, a festival screening in London that caught attention was a 1929 silent film titled A Throw of Dice (Prapancha Pash). Starring Sita Devi and Himansu Rai, it's based on the gambling episode in the Mahabharata. The London Symphony Orchestra played Nitin Sawhney's original composition for this digitally restored film. It has received wider release in the U.K. and will soon become available on DVD. Sawhney has described this Indo-German (and now also British) production—which was the middle film in a trilogy that included The Light of Asia and Shiraz—as "a cross between Chaplin, Cecil B. DeMille and an early Bollywood movie."

A Throw of Dice features 10,000 extras, along with 1000 horses and 50 elephants provided by royal families in Mysore and Rajasthan. Building on the success of this trilogy, Rai and others established the Bombay Talkies studio, which gave a boost to India's nascent movie industry. The vast majority of staff members—numbering over 400—were Indian, and the studio made a number of well-received films in its heyday. Some employees went on to have highly successful careers. "They included actors Ashok Kumar (he began as laboratory assistant), Raj Kapoor (he began as clapper boy), Dilip Kumar; producer S. Mukherjee; writer K. A. Abbas," note Erik Barnouw and S. Krishnaswamy in Indian Film.

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