Many thanks to Minai for pointing out the Angel Bengali YouTube site, which features Bengali films going as far back as 1932, in surprisingly good condition, with English subtitles. Among the films that I found there is Mukti (1937), which is a beautiful slice of Indian film history and certainly one of the most interesting things that I’ve ever found on YouTube.
By many accounts, Mukti was the first great hit – i.e., the breakthrough film – for Kanan Devi. It has been exactly one year since I wrote my last full post on Kanan Devi (which includes some very good links, by the way), and I think even more highly of her now. She’s my favorite of the female singing stars who preceded Noor Jehan, and I think I’m far from the only one with that opinion. I have seen comments in several different places that Kanan Devi must be considered on the same level as Noor and Lata, and I know that Lata has paid tribute to her. She was also a fine actress, and she was the first Bengali movie star.
Mukti was also one of the first films to have Pankaj Mullick as a music director (and possibly the first one to have him as sole music director, not sharing the credit with Rai Chand Boral). And he was superb as both a music director and a singer, as recently evidenced in a list posted (with very good descriptions and historical info) at Songs of Yore. (Incidentally – or, rather, significantly – at least some of the songs in this movie were built around poems by Rabindranath Tagore.)
The writer and director of Mukti – who also played the part of the hero – was P.C. Barua, the man behind the famous Devdas made in 1935. (Interestingly, Barua had wanted Kanan Devi to star in Devdas, but for unspecified reasons(?), she was unable, so Mukti was the film that he gave to her instead.) Barua was a groundbreaking director and the greatest star of New Theatres Sudio in Calcutta, back in the days when Calcutta was the center of the Indian film industry. (There is a bunch of good information about Barua in Mihir Bose’s Bollywood: A History.)
And the cinematographer was Bimal Roy.
Meanwhile, in addition to being so fascinating historically, the film itself is quite interesting and enjoyable content-wise. I hope to write a little more about it (OK, I promise to this time – really!), but I did not want to delay mentioning it and linking to it, as you never know when such treasures on YouTube will just suddenly disappear.
I am including the first part, below. The best way to get to the rest is simply to go to the video at YouTube and work from the sidebar. (I found the searching method to be more problematical, because there are different Muktis, etc.) I hope that other people out there appreciate this film as much as I did!
P.S. Mukti was made in Hindi as well as Bengali. For that reason among others, I would assume that it doesn’t have to have originated in Bombay to be considered one of the great classics of early Bollywood. (I find these distinctions confusing sometimes.)