Some precious nuggets can hit a writer casually. As I left the Chowpatty flat of Shailesh Sheth in Stone Building, with delicate balcony grilles and Italian marble interiors, he said, “My maternal grandfather, Dayaram Shah, was elder brother to Chandulal Shah of Ranjit Movietone.”
Delighted, I stepped right back again into the apartment. How hadn’t he mentioned this while chatting for an hour?
The Sheths understate an exciting cinema legacy. Ranjit Movietone was a great institution of the studio era, along with Bombay Talkies, New Theatres and Prabhat Films. Dayaram, who brought Chandulal to films, was publicity manager of Ardeshir Irani’s Majestic Films and later a scenarist at Ranjit.
Producing silent sagas from 1929, Ranjit Film Company bannered 40 social and mythology melodramas by 1932. Then, with the advent of sound, it became Ranjit Movietone, active till the 1960s. The studio name honoured the Maharaja of Jamnagar and renowned cricketer Ranjit Singh, who monetarily helped establish it.
Chandulal pioneered celebrations for the 1939 silver and 1963 golden jubilee of the film industry. As President of the Film Federation of India, formed in 1951, he even headed a delegation to Hollywood.
The movie mogul died penniless. When legends like Gohar, Motilal, Khurshid and KL Saigal graced the studio payroll, it was declared, “There are more stars in Ranjit than in the heavens.”