The office of the Aurora Film Corporation Pvt. Ltd, the only Indian film production company from the silent era that is still in business, bears the stamp of an illustrious past. Swinging half-doors lead to the office of its managing director, Anjan Bose. Photos of his grandfather, Anadinath Bose, and his father, Ajit Bose, his predecessors at Aurora, hang on the walls.
An award-winning documentary film-maker, Bose, however, is quick to pronounce: “You know, we weren’t allowed to watch films in school and even college. My father believed that films corrupted young minds by confusing reality with illusion. He told me that we were businessmen, not film-makers.”
But for young Bose, the magic of cinema was too palpable in his immediate environment. As a child, he was under its spell: “When I was growing up, I saw my father, in this very room, in deep discussion with film-makers such as Mrinal Sen, Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak.” Eventually, Bose joined his father in the studio’s film-processing laboratory in 1964 as a junior assistant, for a monthly salary of Rs50, and took over the reins entirely after his father’s death in 1996.
Bose’s documentaries include An Encounter, the story of a disabled person, made without dialogues or narration, and The Procession, about a village boy lost in a political rally. “The golden age of Indian cinema spanned from 1947 to 1956, after which full-fledged financiers came into the film industry,” Bose says.
Aurora is now 101 years old. What began as a company distributing imported newsreels is now a state-of-the-art film studio and the oldest film producing, distributing and exhibiting concern in India. “Back then, my grandfather cashed in on the film projection craze by renting out projection systems to the zamindars of Bengal. But soon, inspired by Madan Theatres’ J.F.Madan, they plunged headlong into the film business, emerging as their competitors.” In 1917, during World War I, the company won a contract for short films for the army. It also produced newsreels and short films on cultural icons of the time, such as Rabindranath Tagore, Subhash Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi, a format then popularly known in Bengal as Tuki Taki or Samayiki. “Unfortunately, a great number of these films are lost to us because of a fire that broke out in the studio a year before I was born,” Bose says.
Although Bose’s family has a history of involvement with the country’s freedom struggle, his father chose to distance himself from the political climate of Bengal, which had its influence on Bose: “Even during the Naxalite movement of the late 1960s, he chose to immerse himself in the studio. My grandfather was a patriotic man. He secretly helped freedom fighters cross the Ganga from Nimtala Ghat in the wee hours of the morning.”
Even though Bose tries to sound like a no-nonsense businessman in tune with the rules of the game, there is something about him that is trapped in the past. Perhaps it is the ambience, or the illustrious history he has inherited. Also because, he says with candour: “I had no role models to look up to except my father and grandfather. Film was everything.”
But he says that the year of his birth has little or no significance in his life. He has learnt to live with the times. Aurora now has a film-shooting studio and a post-production set-up that is considered the most well-equipped in the country’s eastern region. Since digital technology has replaced old cameras, he has acquired three digital cameras and three new editing machines. “Only Western technology, shrinking spaces and cheap air tickets will consummate the dream that we as a nation started out with in 1947. You accept it, fight it and win it, otherwise get thrown out,” Bose says.