About 100 years ago, on 28 December of 1895, two brothers, Auguste Lumiere (1862-1954) and Louis Lumiere (1864-1948), arranged the first successful commercial bioscope show. Just after six months of this event, a representative of the Lumiere brothers held a demonstration of the Bioscope in Watson Hotel of Mumbai on 7 July 1896.
Bioscopes became familiar in Kolkata towards the end of that year. The weekly Dhaka Prakash published a news on the first bioscope show in dhaka held on 17 April 1898 in Crown Theatre (now extinct) at Patuatuli of Dhaka Sadarghat area. The show was organized by the Bedford Bioscope Company.
Short films shown by the company included episodes of Queen Victoria's Jubilee Procession, the War between Greece and Turkey, the Coronation of the Russian Czar, documentary shots of the three hundred feet jump of Princess Diana, lions and elephants in entertaining games, sports in snowfall in Britain, roads and underground railway of France, and comedy picture such as the Mad Barber in Shaving Action. The entrance fees varied between half a rupee and three rupees.
Later, bioscope shows were organised in many places of Bengal such as Bogjuri village of Manikganj, the Bungalow of the subdivisional officer of Bhola, the auditorium of Jagannath College of Dhaka, the palace of the Bhawal Estate, Palong of Faridpur, and Victoria Park and Ahsan Manzil of Dhaka.
The first movie theater
Regular bioscope shows began in a jute godown at Armanitola of Dhaka in 1913-14, following which a permanent theatre hall (the Picture House, later known as Shabistan) was established at that place. This is the first cinema hall of Bangladesh.
Hiralal Sen (1866-1917) of Bogjuri village in Manikganj district formed the first bioscope company in Calcutta in 1898 and named it the Royal Bioscope Company. Hira Lal was also the producer of the first film of undivided Bengal. He filmed episodes from dramas like Sita Ram, Ali Baba, Dol Leela, Bhramar, and Hariraj Buddha and showed them in February 1901 at the Classic Theatre of Kolkata. He also produced documentary films, advertisement pictures and newsreels.
The first complete feature film (silent) of the sub-continent, Raja Harish Chandra, was released in 1913. Its director was Dadabhai Falke. In Calcutta the Madan Theatre Company began to produce films in 1916. Under the initiative of the company the first Bangla silent movie Bilva Mangal was released on 8 November 1919. Though Jatish Banerjee (Rustamji Dutiwalla, according to many) was the director of this film, the famous director-producer of a later period, Priya Nath Ganguli, son of the manager of the Dhaka Nawab Estate, was the man behind the screen. In 1921, Dhirendra Nath Ganguli, the deputy collector of Barisal, produced a film named Bilat Ferat (The Man who Returned from England) and himself acted in the film.
Dhaka Nawab Family
In 1927-28, a group of young men of the Nawab family of Dhaka took the initiative to produce films. They produced Sukumari, a silent movie of four reels. The film was directed by Ambuj Prasanna Gupta, a prominent drama worker and an instructor in physical education of Jagannath College. In the film, Khaja Nasrullah played the role of the hero and Syed Abdus Sobhan acted as the heroine.
First feature film
After the success of Sukumari, the young men of the Nawab family set up Dhaka East Bengal Cinematograph Company and produced a full-length silent movie titled The Last Kiss directed by Ambuj Gupta.
Khaja Azad did the camera work. Khaja Ajmal, Khaja Adil, Khaja Akmol, Khaja Shahed, Khaja Nasrullah and Shailen Roy alias Tona Babu acted in different roles in the film. The actresses were Lolita alias Buri (heroine), Charu Bala, Deba Bala alias Devi and Harimati. The first three of these actresses were picked up from brothels. The director himself composed the Bangla and English subtitles of the film and Andalib Shadani of the University of Dhaka composed the Urdu subtitles.
In 1931, The Last Kiss was released in Mukul (now Azad) cinema hall. Distinguished historian Dr Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, Professor of Dhaka University, inaugurated the premier show of the film.
Kazi Nazrul Islam
National poet Kazi Nazrul Islam had a significant role in the history of films of undivided Bengal. In 1931, he was a Sur Bhandari (music director) of Madan Theatres, a renowned film making company of Calcutta. Later, he worked as film director, music director, singer, music composer, actor and storywriter.
In 1934, he produced a film Dhruba jointly with Satyendra Nath Dey. He formed BT Pictures, named after of Shere-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq in 1941. Following Kazi Nazrul Islam, some brave Muslim personalities demonstrated the courage to overcome religious and social barriers and became involved in films.
Noted among them were Abbasuddin Ahmed, Himadri Chowdhury (alias Obaid-ul-Huq), Kiron Kumar (alias Fateh Lohani), Swapan Kumar alias Kazi Khaleque, Udayan Chowdhury (alias Ismail Mohammad), Banani Chowdhury (alias Begam Anowara), Abdul Ahad, Nazir Ahmad, Inam Ahmad, Baby Islam and Q M Zaman.
Himadri Chowdhury produced and directed Dukhey Jader Jiban Gada (the distressed people) in 1946 and Udayan Chowdhury produced Manusher Bhagaban (God of the People) in 1947. Both of them were sent to prison for the 'revolutionary' content of their films. After the partition of Bengal in 1947, film workers of Calcutta migrated to Dhaka and made active contributions in laying the foundation of the film industry in East Pakistan.