Saturday 11 February 2017

The Bombay Talkies exhibition

Peter Dietze opening The Bombay Talkies
There is much to experience during the inaugural Asia TOPA Festival, a festival which celebrates the artistic and creative talent of our neighbouring Asian countries and Australia's connection with these countries. One such event is The Bombay Talkies exhibition that is currently on at ACMI, which offers a glimpse into a movie studio that changed the film industry in India.

Founded in 1934 by Himanshu Rai - a pioneer of Indian cinema - and Devika Rani - an actress who has been widely acknowledged as the first lady of Indian cinema, The Bombay Talkies produced 40 films in 20 years and lifted Indian films to that of international standards. 

This free exhibition consists of over 3,000 cultural artefacts once owned by Rai and highlights the impact that the studio had on the country during this time. The multitude of newspaper clippings, letters, invitations, stills and photographs all show the fascination (and even obsession) that audiences had for its films and actors, including Ashok Kumar, who became the star of the studio and an icon of Indian cinema.

There are a number of scenes from various movies playing on screens throughout the rooms including Karma, which was Rai's final film appearance and Rani's first, and was also the first film to be shot in both English and Hindustani versions. Other scenes from movies screened explore the various political issues in India as well as information on the importance of music in these films, which includes work by Saraswati Dev, one of the few female film score composers of that time.

What's even more interesting is the story of how this exhibition came to be, with Melbourne based company director, Peter Dietze discovering his Indian heritage after finding a photo of a man who looked just like him in his attic. That man was Himanshu Rai - his grandfather - and it led Dietze on a journey to Mumbai where he discovered the legacy his grandfather had left on the film industry. It's the first time these items are on display to the public and an exhibition that is definitely worth a viewing. 

The Bombay Talkies exhibition is on at ACMI until 2 July 2017.

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