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Some bilateral aspects of theater, dance and cinema

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It is hardly known that it was a Russian ballerina who kindled the appreciation and development of Classical Indian dances among the enthusiasts in India, and that the Indian film industry had a German midwife: Franz Osten, a film maker from Bavaria, came to India in the1920s.

Famous ballerina Anna Pawlowa, who came to India in 1929, was inspired by the young Indian dancer Uday Shankar to include Indian themes in her dance - and was the spark to the initiaves to revive the classical Indian dances, such as Bharata Natyam, in I...
Famous ballerina Anna Pawlowa, who came to India in 1929, was inspired by the young Indian dancer Uday Shankar to include Indian themes in her dance - and was the spark to the initiaves to revive the classical Indian dances, such as Bharata Natyam, in India at that time.© picture-alliance

Anna Pawlowa, the famous ballerina who came to India in 1929, was inspired by the young Indian dancer Uday Shankar to include Indian themes in her dance - and this kindled the initiaves to revive classical Indian dances, such as Bharata Natyam, in India at that time. Although through ordinances of the British colonial Government temple dances were considered obscene and were prohibited, there was a movement among dancers, scholars, intellectuals and in the elite in India to revitalise the age-old classical dance traditions. Anna Pawlowa, a Russian ballet dancer, and most famous ballerina of her times, had inspired the audiences in India not only because of her artistic expertise and her ethereal bodily movements, but also because several of her performances were based on Indian themes, because of her dance partner, the young Uday Shankar. She inspired Uday Shankar, and Rukmini Devi, both members of the elite Brahmin community, to take up and revive the Indian dance forms, especially Bharata Natyam, who now are considered the very pioneers of classical Indian dance.

German dancers continue to feel inspired by India and seek interaction with their Indian colleagues, for example Sasha Waltz brought her "Allee der Kosmonauten" to India in Feb 1999. Susanne Linke is a household name among modern dance practicioners and she holds often workshops in India, such as in Mumbai in 2002. Most well-known is Pina Bausch whose choreography "Bamboo Blues" premiered in India in 2008.


Film

Franz Osten, film pioneer from Southern Germany, first helped to develop the film studios of Munich and then those of Bombay shortly after cinema was invented. He shot more than 60 historical films during the 1920s in locations in India, and therefore influenced to a great extent the development of the Indian film industry in the 1930s. It was the lawyer and film buff Himanshu Rai, who came to Germany in order to learn the technical and artistic know-how for building up the budding Indian film industry. Himanshu Rai’s great project was to shoot a series of films on world religions, and he wanted to start with Christianity. For him, the Passion Plays of Christ performed with traditional fervour in Oberammergau in Bavaria were representing the main traits of Christianity. He was looking for a partner in this venture in Germany, and talks began with the film studies “Emelka”. During the course of discussions, the theme changed, and it was decided to first make a film on Gautama Buddha.

/Die Leuchte Asiens/ (/The Light of Asia/, or/ Prem Sanyas/) was one of the most popular films directed by Franz Osten in 1925.
/Die Leuchte Asiens/ (/The Light of Asia/, or/ Prem Sanyas/) was one of the most popular films directed by Franz Osten in 1925.© picture-alliance

His first film was called "Die Leuchte Asiens" ("The Light of Asia"), shot in India. Franz Osten came to India with a huge camera team. Elephants, precious customs and jewellery and palaces of Rajasthan were organised for the shootings, and as predicted, the film was a great success in Germany. Himanshu Rai and his wife, actress Devika Rani, continued the collaboration with the German film pioneer, and cooperation extended so much that during a trip to Germany Devika Rani even got lessons in acting from German cinema icons such as Fritz Lang and Marlene Dietrich. Devika Rani rose to become the uncontested diva of the 1930s in India. Some of the most famous films of Franz Osten were "Shiraz", and "Grabmal einer großen Liebe". Himanshu Rai opened in 1934 a production firm called “Bombay Talkies”, in which Osten was a partner. German camera technicians trained their Indian colleagues. Osten had directed about 16 film in India. Many Greats of the Indian film industry, such as Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar, started their career with “Bombay Talkies”, which became one of the most important production studios of its times. In August 1939, when World War II started, Franz Osten and his camera man Josef Wirsching were imprisoned by the British and had to leave the country. Franz Osten died in 1956, hardly known in Germany, but revered in India as the pioneer who put the nascent Indian film industries firmly on its feet.

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