Happy Tuesday! Back to the Samarth-Mukherjee family. This one is going to be a long one, but not necessarily a super exciting one. I’ll try to make it as exciting as possible, but both families are too old and too savvy to really get involved in scandals. Although that first post did have Shobhna Samarth’s affair with Motilal, so at least that’s something.
Usual Disclaimer: I don’t know any of these people in person, I have no particular knowledge, but this is the general knowledge of what has happened. And if you are new to the films, or somehow missed this particular story, it might be interesting.
In the last section, I started allllllll the way back with Rattan Bai, and her brief involvement in early film as a young widow, followed by her determined and talented daughter Shobhna plunging into the industry as a young wife, and then launching her own teenage daughters years later.
One of Shobhna’s daughters is going to grow up and marry into a similarly old Indian film family, and rather than going down the Samarth line and then over and up the Mukherjees, I thought I might start with the Mukherjees and go down their line, until the two meet up.
The Mukherjee’s really start with Ashok Kumar (born Ganguly). Ashok Kumar got his own pseudo Hindi Film 101 post back on his birthday. He was India’s first movie star, pulled from the editing room to fill in when a series of events let a Bombay Talkies film suddenly hero-less. He became a matinee idol, and a businessman, eventually buying the very studio that launched him. And also launching all 3 of his brothers in the film industry, the middle of him matched him in fame, Kishore Kumar who became one of the all time classic playback singers, and married to India’s most famous beauty, Madhubala.
But what of Ashok’s sister? She was married to Sashadhar Mukherjee, who is the reason Ashok Kumar came into film at all. He was working as a cameraman at the Bombay Talkies studio and invited his young brother-in-law Ashok to come join him from Calcutta. And years later, when Bombay Talkies had fallen in fortune, Sashadhar (now one of their top managers and producers), and Ashok (their top star), and Gyan Mukherjee (no relation, and one of the top directors), all left to start their own studio.
(The sister is second from the left in this massive happy family photo of the whole Ganguly clan)
I think it was in my Chopra post where I talked about the difference between a studio and a “banner”. A studio is a rare thing, an actual physical location where films are made. A banner is just a name and a letterhead for a production company which rents space at the studio to make a movie. A banner is ephemeral, here today and gone tomorrow. Sometimes the two go together, a banner builds a studio in which to make it’s movies. A lot of the major studios were built in the early days of film for this purpose, and then as the driving genius behind them passed on, they turned into merely physical plants to be rented out. That’s what happened to RK Studios, Mehboob studios, etc.
Filmistan studios was an odd duck. Originally a banner and a studio lot, but without one consistent driving force the way most banners have it. It was more of a homeless shelter, all the various folks who felt abandoned after Himanshu Rai’s death and the temporary falling in fortune of Bombay Talkies. And it was only temporary, as it turned out, Bombay Talkies itself went up for sale a few years later, Ashok jumped at the chance to purchase and take over his original home. Filmistan continued for several years, having a series of hits in the 1950s, light romance types things. Lots of Nassir Hussain movies, lots of Shammi Kapoor films modern teenage love stories.
(Filmistan Studios today. Currently, Sajid Nadiawala is considering purchasing it, bringing together the healthy Nadiawala Grandson banner with the healthy physical plant of Filmistan)
And then in 1958, Sashadhar Mukherjee sold his shares and left as well. No reason that I can find in particular, I assume it was just a matter of feeling trapped in this odd hodge-podge of a business when he would rather own something outright. And having the money and industry reputation (thanks to those series of light Shammi Kapoor hits) to be able to really start something substantial. Which he did, founding Filmalaya Studios, another banner with an actual physical lot. Poor Filmistan was left behind to turn into more of a space for rent type of place. Used, for instance, for Ra.One and the TV show Jhalaak Dikhla Jaa.
Filmalaya was definitely a family type of place. Sashadhar had 4 sons and one daughter, and they all worked around the studio lot. Especially the 3 younger sons, who all become producer/director/actors around the lot. Sashadhar’s youngest brother, Subodh, had also started a directing career by then. And his older brother Ravidramohan, and other younger brother Prabodh, were producers. The Mukherjee family has never really sought publicity or revealed any scandal, they have maintained their privacy and their traditions just like any other nice Bengali family in Bombay. For instance, to this day the Mukherjee’s have a massive Durga Puja celebration, tied back to their Bengali roots.
(this is a photo of Kajol with her cousin Ayan at a recent Durga Puja)
But, in their quiet way, the Mukherjee’s have a lot of respect in the industry. Their light romance type films helped launch a lot of young heroes and heroines. And gave work to a lot of up and coming young directors. And there was an advantage to having so many children (and a brother) involved in running the studio, no one voice was necessarily stronger than the other, allowing for a harmonious working environment.
It was easier to work behind the scenes for the oldest generation. The first 4 Mukherjee brothers, Ravidramohan, Sashadhar, Subodh, and Prabodh, we barely know anything about them. They came to Bombay from Calcutta during the between the war era, found work in the new film industry, and came up from small dark editing rooms and behind the camera to business offices and living room meeting with glamorous stars. But they always stayed in the background, living their little sensible business lives without any need for the sparkle that we tend to associate with film.
That “sparkle” was impossible to put off in the next generation. Not because the Mukherjees changed, but because film changed. Post-war, there was a huge influx of money, and at the same time imported films were increasingly forbidden. And, of course, Hindi was now taught in most schools and encouraged throughout the country. The Hindi language Bombay industry went from a relaxed small local business to huge national news. And to really make it in this new era, you needed stars, not just quiet men in business suits in offices.
I focused on Sashadhar out of the 4 brothers because he was the “face” of the family, and he was also the one whose children were most important in the next generation. Joy, Deb, and Shomu all became actors. Joy was launched first, at age 21, in a film titled Love in Shimla, the first in what would be a series of “Love in” films for the Filmalaya studios. This happened in 1960, not so coincidentally just a few years after Filmalaya was founded. I am sure concern over providing for the next generation, along with an awareness that he might have the valuable commodity of a homegrown star in his young son, helped inspire Sashadhar to branch out on his own.
(Joy Mukherjee. A handsome man!)
Joy was never a big big star, but he had his fans, and he had his own particular kind of genre. Light light romance, even lighter than Shammi Kapoor’s films of the same era. With fresh-faced young heroines, Sadhna was launched opposite him in his first movie, Asha Parakh and Saira Banu worked with him as well. In their own way, these movies remind me of the Bhatt films today, not terribly imaginative plot or original ideas, cheap young actresses, an actor from their own family (and sometimes a director as well), and really good music. This is a gap that needs to be filled, someone has to take a risk on these lower budget films, to find new actresses and help launch them, to keep the wheels of the industry turning and fill the screens on those weekends when a major film from a major star at a major studio isn’t coming out.
In the 1970s, Joy started to age out of these kinds of roles and moved more and more behind the camera for directing and producing. He didn’t find much success in those roles, and finally faded from awareness altogether. It was left to the next oldest brother, Deb, to take over.
(Deb Mukherjee, another handsome man!)
Deb was never quite as successful as his brother Joy. But he had his moments, and once again he was featured in a series of not terribly original light films with great music. His more interesting career happened after he aged out of those roles. He started taking tiny character roles, not too proud to work wherever it was offered. Someone who not only was the star of his own movies, but whose family owned a major studio lot, and he was still taking these small humble roles as the coach in Jo Jeet Wohi Sikander. But also roles with large gaps between them, this wasn’t work because he had to work or wanted to work, this was because he was offered roles and if he liked the person and thought it would be interesting, he did them.
And then there’s Shomu. The brother who didn’t act. But he did everything else. Produced, wrote, and directed. And not terribly talented at any of them. I’ve seen his last movie, Sangdil Sanam, and it was a good time and a fun watch, but not exactly brilliant.
(Shomu Mukherjee. Not as handsome)
I’m going to finish up with the non-Samarth parts of the family real quick, and then go back to the line that matched with the Samarth’s in my next post. First, going all the way back to the original 4 brothers, the oldest, Ravidramohan married someone, and had a son named Ram who married a woman named Krishna. Krishna was a playback singer, and Ram was a director. But neither of them have much trace left on the internet, which tells me they weren’t very successful at either of those professions. I have a picture of more of a journeyman director, who worked in Hindi and Bengali small films, steadily but without great success or fame. And a woman who may have sung a song or two to make some money and ended up meeting and marrying the director/producer of one of the films she worked on. They are mostly interesting for how uninteresting they are, the kind of small time filmworkers we don’t usually hear about. But the kind that make up the majority of the film industry, and which are known within the industry even if the general public doesn’t care about them.
Remember in my nepotism post I talked about how the people who landed in film weren’t just co-workers, they lived in the same neighborhoods, they celebrated marriages and deaths and religious holidays together? The Mukherjees may not have been famous or in the fan magazines, but they were at these parties and events, and living in these neighborhoods. They were a good old film family, in that way. And that’s why Ram and Krishna’s daughter, Rani Mukherjee, while she may not have had a grand launch that you would expect from the daughter of an old film family, has proven herself easily capable of fitting in with the film world and film society. The real society, not the South Bombay parties, but the prayer meets and funerals and small family Diwali parties.
In the Sashadhar branch, there was a little more interaction with the media, because they actually acted. But not much. We know the name of Joy’s wife, Neelam, but not the year they were married, or anything else about her. There are plenty of photos of Joy onscreen and off, but not the kind of staged studio photos we have of the Bachchans and other major families in their homes with their young children.
We know the names of both of Deb’s wives, Manisha and Amrit, but there is no big scandal to track back over his divorce, it wasn’t even noticed. Despite the fact that both his marriages resulted in famous children. His daughter from his first wife married a TV actor, who went on to become one of the most successful directors in Hindi film, Ashutosh Gowarikar. And his son, by his second wife, became another of the most successful directors, Ayan Mukherjee. Ayan is so successful, in fact, that there is talk of him reviving the Filmalaya studios as a true “Banner” again, not just an empty lot to be rented out.
(Ashutosh Gowariker and his wife. If I squint, she kind of looks like Kajol, right?)
And then there’s Shomu. Who was least famous for himself but the most famous brother for his family. Married Tanuja, youngest daughter of Shobhna Samarth, and thus became the father of Kajol and Tanisha, the current Samarth actresses.
(Baby Kajol! Note the eyebrows)