September Surprise
A still from Jawani Ki Hawa (1935). Source: Wikimedia Commons

In today’s absurd “cancel culture” age of agitation against works of art, it’s worth considering how the first film produced by the legendary Bombay Talkies studio got mired in controversy in September 1935.

Intended as a romantic thriller, Jawani ki Hawa fanned hot debate unrelated to the otherwise suggestive title. Franz Osten’s entertainer, with music scored by Saraswati Devi (Khurshid Minocherhomji from a conservative Zoroastrian family), also cast her sister Chandraprabha (Manek) as the second lead with Devika Rani.

Set designer Karl von Spreti shared a bemused account of this protest instigated by a section of the community’s men objecting to the two women appointed by Bombay Talkies. Featuring in the movies was then largely infra dig for Parsi heroine aspirants. “Our film is still not born. Last night it was released by the censor, after which the Parsis contacted the Governor by telegraph,” von Spreti noted on September 12 that year.

Staging demonstrations opposing shows at Imperial Cinema, the Parsi Federal Council sought a ban. A fate the film escaped thankfully. The brouhaha did result in the resignation of three of Bombay Talkies’ Parsi board members. But the ladies retained each of their roles and Jawani Ki Hawa ran its course.


MEHER MARFATIA

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