Filmmaker Himanshu Rai’s Grandson Speaks About The Neglect of The Once-Flourishing Bombay Talkies Studio

Filmmaker Himanshu Rai’s Grandson Speaks About The Neglect of The Once-Flourishing Bombay Talkies Studio

Peter Dietze is showcasing 14 items from the 3000-plus Dietze family archive, at the Josef Wirsching Exhibition on in the city till April 17

Roshmila BhattacharyaUpdated: Sunday, March 10, 2024, 03:50 AM IST
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Peter Dietze |

Bombay Talkies, one of the oldest film studios in India, is getting a new lease of life via an exhibition at the Jehangir Nicolson Hall at the CSMVS, Mumbai. Grandson of Himashu Rai and his first wife, Mary Hainlin, Peter Dietze, is in town with the archival exhibit, which is a part of A Cinematic Imagination: Josef Wirsching & The Bombay Talkies. Peter talks to The Free Press Journal about his sudden discovery about his heritage and about Bombay Talkies.

Excerpts from the interview:

For all these years, Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani were a power couple who set up the Bombay Talkies Studio in Mumbai. Few knew the actor-producer was married to Mary Hainlin earlier, had even fathered a child with her, your mother Nilima Annaliese Dietze.

I had no idea either. I was in my thirties when I came across a photograph of a man who looked a lot like me in the attic. When I wondered aloud who he was, my mother, who till then had never spoken about him, told me that he was my grandfather, Himanshu Rai. Since my parents are German and I had grown up in Australia, my first reaction was, “But he’s Indian!” Later, reflecting back to that moment, I realised my Indian ancestry explained my character and behaviour in some ways. From that day, I’ve been on a mission to discover who I am and where I come from. It was a pretty big deal when I discovered my grandfather’s contributions, not just to Indian cinema, but also world cinema. And the role of my grandmother, an actress-dancer who travelled with the Deutsche Theatre across Europe and UK, in his journey. Mary Hainlin met Himanshu Rai when both were part of The Indian Players, a group he managed when they toured Britain. After leaving London, they returned to Germany where she introduced him to the big film companies like UFA and Emelka. They later married secretly. My mother was born in 1926.

Which are your favourite Himanshu Rai films? 

I like his silent films. A Throw of Dice, closely followed by Shiraz, and then, The Light of Asia. I’ve visited Udaipur where A Throw of Dice was shot, the locations are beautiful, so are  the costumes. Through these films, Himanshu Rai showed the East to the West, not as a tourist postcard picture of tigers, elephants and snake charmers, but as a true representation of Indian food, clothes, architecture and culture. That’s why they are still relevant.        

You visited the Bombay Talkies Studio in 2006.

Yes, and also last week. Visiting the studio in Malad where Himanshu Rai, Devika Rani, Ashok Kumar and Dilip Kumar had the time of their lives is an emotional experience. Back then, it was the best place to be, alive with a staff of 400. When I drove there on March 5, I found it as dilapidated as it had been in 2006. Thankfully, they have barricaded it so people can’t use it as a dumping ground now. But that apart, nothing much has changed in these 18 years. (Sighs)

There are signs of progress everywhere in the city, with roads being concretised and buildings coming up. It’s good to look at the future, but we must respect the past too.

Eventually, our mission will be to assist in facilitating care of the studio. Bombay Talkies is not just my history, it’s India’s history.                

There was a web series recently, Jubilee, period drama fiction, but one found certain parallels with Himanshu Rai, Devika Rani and the studio they built. Have you seen it?

Yes, I have. I thought the production values were fantastic. It used a lot of creative licence, but I found it extremely enjoyable. Maybe someday I can make a docu-series on Bombay Talkies. It’s an idea, let’s see how it goes.

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