Viewers get an insight into the silent era

In a tribute to 100 years of Indian cinema, the organisers of the 18 edition of the Kolkata International Film Festival made an attempt to turn back time and recreate the film-viewing experience of the “tent-cinemas” from a century ago.

The Hiralal Sen Mancha, named after one of the pioneers of filmmaking in India, was inaugurated here on Sunday.

While the hangar accommodated no more than about 200 people compared to over a 1,000 spectators that the itinerant venues a century ago could, and the chilling air-conditioning of the Hiralal Sen Mancha was certainly not available to the audience inside the tents in the early 20 century, the experience of watching Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra inside the temporary structure was certainly novel.

With a live orchestra providing music accompaniment at the venue, the screening certainly offered an insight into the silent era of films, even if it was not able to recreate it in entirety.

As the black and white scenes — at times of unnaturally hurried action — flashed onto the screen, the musicians of Debjyoti Mishra’s orchestra matched the pace of the film with their music. The violins quivered in excitement and anticipation as the King went out for the hunt, wailed in misery when he was forced to give up his kingdom and during the years of the Royal family in exile, but were joyful again when the gods finally smiled upon him in the climax.

Live orchestras were used during the silent era of film to drown out the noise from the early projection systems, but also helped the audience interpret the action on screen.

A few hiccups in the course of the screening — the musicians were told to start playing before the film was loaded; even when it was loaded, the projectionist did not start the film; frequent calls to dim the lights in the room —only served to make the experience more authentic. Surely such scenes must have been witnessed in the days that a live orchestra had to keep pace with a recorded silent film.

Back in the days of the tent cinemas, the audience were usually treated to more than one film. At the Hiralal Sen Mancha too it was a triple-bill. Raja Harishchandra was followed by another classic Indian film from the silent era, Kalia Mardan, and the 1931 Bengali film, Jamai Babu.

In the coming days, other significant films in the century-long history of Indian cinema will be screened at the venue.

An exhibition of posters of landmark films has also been organised within the Nandan complex, the epicentre of the festival.