BN Sircar: The man who transformed the Bangladeshi film industry

BN Sircar, a City and Guilds of London civil engineer who later became a studio owner and film producer, founded the New Theaters in Tollygunge on 10 February 1931 and started a new trend in the performing arts segment . His company motto was “Jivatang Jyotiretu Chhayam(Light Bringing Shadows to Life).

Picky about quality, Sircar had the insight to hire the best talent. Actors such as KL Saigal, Pahadi Sanyal, Amar Mullick, Kanan Devi, Chandrabati Devi, Leela Desai and Prithviraj Kapoor were on his payroll.

New Theaters was born on a vast stretch of land off Tollygunge, in the far south of Calcutta. Over the years it has had a lovely garden filled with mango trees, flowers and a “Gol Ghar” in the center. Sircar has brought directors such as PC Barua, Premankor Atharthi, Debaki Bose, Dhiren Ganguly, Bimal Roy and Phani Majumdar under its wing. New Theatres’ first film was a Bengali talkie, Dena Paona, released in 1931, based on the novel by Sarat Chandra Chatterjee. It was directed by Premankur Atarthi and the music was composed by Raichand Boral. BN Sircar even invited Rabindranath Tagore to direct a film version of the play, Natir Puja (1932), which was a dance drama with Buddhist themes. The screenplay was written by Dinendranath, Tagore’s nephew. Tagore himself played a key character, Upali.

The late filmmaker Arabindu Mukherjee worked as an assistant director at the New Theaters from 1947 to 1958. He once said, “Gol Ghar has an interesting history. The story goes that Sir built it overnight when Rabindranath Tagore was due to come to the studios for the shooting of his only directorial film, Natir Poojain 1931. He knew Tagore would find the studio floors too hot to handle, so he created this cool nook for the poet laureate who later became his own little island of sunshine.

The Gol Ghar has hosted some of the greatest figures in Indian history. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, Rabindranath Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and Shyamaprasad Mukherjee are just a few names whose footprints have graced the land that is home to the new theatres. From international cinema, personalities such as Frank Capra, Jean Renoir or Pudovkin have honored the studio with their presence. Sircar also built a theater called Chitra (now called Mitra) as an outlet for films produced by New Theaters.

BN Sircar was born on July 5, 1901 in Bhagalpur. His father, Sir Nripendra Nath Sircar, was then Advocate General of Joint Bengal and a member of the Viceroy’s Council. After completing his education at the Hindu school in Kolkata, he studied engineering at the University of London. Back in India, he was asked to build a theatre. The project led him to develop a keen interest in films. He was so fascinated that he started building his own theater for showing Bengali language films. It was called ‘Chitra‘ and was opened in Calcutta by Subhas Chandra Bose on December 30, 1930. It was followed by the construction of new theatres, which showed Hindi films.

The unique features of the new theaters were – strong stories (preferably from Bengali literature), catchy songs and music, sound technique and good acting. In 1935, the reading song was used for the first time in India in the Bengali film Chakra Bhagya by Nitin Bose. The singers were KC Dey, Parul Ghosh and Suprabha Sarkar. Dhoop ChhaonHindi remake of this film, was the first Hindi film to use playback singing.

Over a period of 24 years (1931-1955), the New Theaters produced more than 150 films shot in its own studios, in different languages, known both for the quality of content and technical excellence. In August 1940, a massive fire engulfed the New Theaters Laboratory and burned away years of work. But the adversities failed to bog down Sircar. He quietly put everything back together and succeeded. Puran Bagat, Yahoudi Ki Ladki, ChandidasDevdas, Dhoop Chaon, Mukti, Vidhyapati, street singerand Badi Didi were the notable Hindi versions of the Bilinguals which were also made in Bengali. Bakul (1955) is his last film.

Sircar has held various positions of responsibility in several important film bodies set up by the government as well as by the industry. He was also associated with the Film Inquiry Committee of the Government of India in 1949 and honored with Padmabhushan in 1971 by the Government of India. Birendra Nath Sircar, was awarded Dadasaheb Phalke award in 1971. He died on November 28, 1980. Till date, he remains remembered for his rich contribution to Indian cinema.