With the advent of sound in movies, i.e. talkies, in the late 1920s, the stage had been set for the move from "silent to sound" in India. And in 1931 India's first talkie Alam Ara was produced by Imperial Movietone, a partnership firm of Ardeshir Irani and the three Rangwala brothers. In contrast, Himansu Rai set up Bombay Talkies as a Limited Company with eminent denizens of Bombay as its board of directors, and a professional set up in line with international film studios, making it unique amongst Indian film companies of those days. It also had the backing of financial institutions and paid out dividends to its shareholders from the third year of its incorporation in 1934.
Besides Himansu Rai, the studio boasted of star actress Devika Rani and ace German director, Franz Osten as well as several foreign technicians. Soon after it’s founding the studio gave its first hit, Achhut Kanya in 1936. This was followed by two more, Kangan in 1939 and Bandhan in 1940. These three hits also set a laboratory assistant of Bombay Talkies, Ashok Kumar to stardom. It also launched the career of two women, Leela Chitnis as an actress and Khursheed Minocher-Homji as Bollywood’s first and only Parsi music director who went by the name Saraswati Devi. Tragedy king Dilip Kumar too was first cast in a Bombay Talkies production, Jwar Bhata. And, Mehmood and Madhubala also got a break here.
But if there is one movie that Bombay Talkies will always be remembered for, it is the 1943 release Kismet. A fast-paced movie about two separated brothers going on “different paths”, ultimately to be reunited, was a major hit that ran for 3 consecutive years in a Calcutta theater! The song, Aaj Himalay Ki Choti Se penned by Pradeep, a disguised call to the British to quit India, found instant appeal amongst audiences.
Sadly for the studio, after the death of Himansu Rai in 1940, it was split into two production groups owing to differences between the people at the helm. And what would have been India’s answer to the major Hollywood studios like Warner Bros., United Artists, MGM, etc., eventually went defunct in 1953, before its last film Baadbaan was released a year later.