Director: Harilal M. Bhatt; Writer: Harilal M. Bhatt; Cast: Miss Mani, Gaby Hill, Mr Dave, Mr Yusuf, Y.L. Chichulkar, S.P. Niphadkar, Madanlal
Duration: 00:14:06; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Lightness: 0.317; Volume: 0.054; Cuts per Minute: 26.098
Summary: Arguing for communal harmony and filial piety, the film tells of Madhumal (Dave), a rich Zamindar, his beloved son Shashibhushan (Yusuf), his loving daughter Annapurna (Mani) and his adopted son Madhav (Chichulkar). When Madhumal picks up a wounded child swathed in bandages, a title says 'nay- Hindus and Mohammedans are but the children of one loving father- God'. In close-up, Madhumal is shown donating equally to the Aligarh Muslim and Benares Hindu universities. In contrast, his dissolute son Shashibhushan falls into the clutches of the villain Gadbaddas and the courtesan Nurjehan (Hill). 1262 ft survives with the NFAI.
Suresh Chabria writes: ‘Only the first reel of this social melodrama has survived, but because of its formal consistency it seems to be a typical example of the genre in its maturity.
After a solemn and lengthy text about filial sons and bad ones who ‘convert the bliss of the domestic hearth into the torments of Hell’ the main characters are introduced. Madhumal, the benevolent patriarch and city father, Mahamaya, his dutiful wife, Shashibhushan, his beloved son, Annapurna, the loving daughter-in-law and Madhava, the adopted son. Madhumal is distributing money to a crowd of people–presumably his tenants–outside his palatial mansion. When a child is hurt in the crush, Madhumal compassionately lifts him and takes him inside. The first villain Rokadchand, ‘A Marwari Shylock’, arrives and upbraids Madhumal for helping a child who may not be of his own faith. Madhumal declares his secular ideals by sending cheques of an equal amount to the Benares Hindu and Aligarh Muslim universities and Rokadchand predicts that dire consequences will result from such unorthodox sentiments.
The next day Shashibhushan is visited by Gadbaddas who is introduced as a ‘villain who is a teacher of music’. His erotic interpretation of a ‘delicate’ couplet is objected to by Annapurna who accuses him of planting impure thoughts in the future master’s mind. Stinging from the insult Gadbaddas goes to Nurjahan, a dancing girl, and her wily father Karim Khan. He promises to deliver a ‘wealthy fool’ i.e. Shashibhushan to their clutches. The reel ends here, but there is no doubt about the direction the story will take. For in a very short time, the ground has been prepared for the weak son to be eventually redeemed by his righteous father’s example and Annapurna’s virtue.
With the notable exception of the films directed by the German Franz Osten, the chief stylistic trait of the other extant Indian silent films is a predominantly frontal style. In Pitru Prem it is revealed with a rigour which approaches the level of a fully self-conscious style. As Ashish Rajadhyaksha has argued, the Indian cinema inherited frontality and privileging of a ‘public domain’ from traditional painting and the company theatre forms which preceded it. Conforming to popular story telling methods, each character is introduced with a title card stating their essential qualities which discloses their function and role in the unfolding of the narrative.
Harilal M. Bhatt made a few more films in the silent era and thereafter returned to work in the theatre. There is an interesting footnote accounting for the survival of this reel. It was donated to the archive by Madan Kothari, a prominent film distributor, who had preserved the reel because he appeared in it as a child artist. How one wishes his sentimental link with the film had helped to preserve the rest of the film as well!’. From Suresh Chabria ed. Light of Asia: Indian Silent Cinema 1912-1934, New Delhi: Niyogi Books/Pune: National Film Archive of India, 2013, pg 62-63.