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10 times Filmindia editor Baburao Patel gave a witty insight into the industry

On the acerbic writer’s 114th birth anniversary today (he was born on 4 April 1904), we delve back into some issues of the industry magazine to revisit Patel’s popular column where he answered readers’ questions.

Sonal Pandya

Filmindia editor and director of such films as Kismet (1932) and Bala Joban (1934), Baburao Patel, was a name to be reckoned with during the early era of Indian cinema. As a film critic, Patel stated his views openly, sometimes with malice and many times, with an honesty that is missing today in film journalism.

Besides his feared reviews and articles on cinema, his magazine contained a section title, ‘The Editor's Mail’ whereby he would answer readers’ questions. The popular section ran over several pages, with readers asking simple things from stars’ addresses to the directing abilities of filmmakers.

Remembering Baburao Patel, Filmindia’s fearless creator and editor

Reading some of his question-and-answer sessions today shows how much the industry has changed and how much it hasn’t. Here are only some of Patel’s responses to his readers, he spared no one with his sharp pen, not even himself!

Vol. 3 No. 8 (December 1937)

From A.V. E. (Waltair)

Who are the best comedians of India?

India has no comedians. The people we see are merely clowns. And for that matter, India has a lot to learn in the province of humour.

Vol. 3 No. 9 (January 1938)

From: Yogidas (Poona)

What is the meaning of 'gigolo'?

The dictionary explains it as "a professional male dancing partner". Having in mind some of our present day actors, I would add some more words: "Fashion plate and sponger" to indicate further attributes.

Vol. 6 No. 2 (March 1940)

From: D Putta Raj (Hassan)

What sort of power a person must have to join a film company?

If a female, intending to be a star, the voltage must be 440. For others 6 volts would keep the job, if by accident they got the job.

Vol. 5 No. 4 (April 1939)

From: D.M. Mudbidri (Poona)

Don't you think that our trailers of Indian films are unnecessarily long?

So are the pictures which these trailers claim to advertise. Our trailers as we find them today convey a warning to the audience of what is in store for them. I think that a large number of people are scared away by these trailers and no wonder the pictures fail. The trailers are sometimes so long that one finds it cheaper to see the trailer than the picture. As a short synopsis of the pictures, the present trailers are good and leave no further desire to see the picture. But as trailers, intended to create a desire, they are just no good. Well, trailers need brains and that is what producers are searching for.

Vol. 7 No. 7 (July 1941)

From: M.L.A.K Shayer (Hyderabad)

What qualifications are necessary to get a job in a film company — money or merit?

Both unnecessary. Just luck is needed. If producers had taken their artistes on sheer merit, the industry could hardly have accommodated more than a dozen.

Vol. 4 No. 5 (September 1938)

From: V.U. Patel (Bombay)

Is it dangerous for any human being to join the film line?

Yes, if you get yourself wrapped in celluloid and some one sets fire to it. Or if you get wrapped up with a sweet looking heroine. Then it is more dangerous.

Vol. 8 No. 9 (September 1942)

From: S Rahat Ali Khan (Moradabad)

Many of the pictures produced are comedies. Why don't the story writers write tragedies?

Our story writers always write tragedies — tragedies of the box-office usually. The producers turn them into comedies. It pays them better to have people laughing and paying. And people also love to be good losers. Why the hell do you want tragedies? Aren't there enough tears without the screen shedding them?

Vol. No. (1945)

From Vithaldas L Bhatia (Bombay)

Many people leave theatres at the interval having seen half the picture and then express their views as follows: "There is no stuff in it. It is a headache." Do you think it is right to do so without seeing the picture completely?

There is nothing wrong in the spectators expressing their opinion if they have not been entertained through the full half of a picture. They pay for the entertainment and they would like to get it, every minute of their stay in the theatre. Seeing a picture through, good or bad, is an obligation on the professional critic. The lay filmgoer is under no such obligation. If a producer has failed to wake up the interest of the audience during the first five thousand and odd feet, you can be pretty sure that he has failed to do so in the remaining footage.

Vol. 6 No. 5 (April 1940)

From: Nanoobhai B Patel

Indian films use a duet to express love. Don't you think they would do well to use a kiss instead?

Yes, a kiss would be the shortest cut, which perhaps the audience would also like, if it is passionately given. But what about the literary bile of the dialogue writer who wants to spit out love through the painted lips in the shape of senseless words? Then there are the Censor Boards with their unromantic inspectors and tired fossils as members of the Boards. Won't they fall to pieces if they see a good long-winded kiss on the screen? They haven't kissed even their wives.

From: SN Shankar (Mysore) Vol. 9 No. 7 (July 1943)

Is there any probability of a second Baburao Patel springing up in India in future?

No chance. My mother died in the very first attempt.