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Remembering the founder-patriarch of Rajshri Productions, Tarachand Barjatya - Death anniversary special

On the occasion of his 30th death anniversary, we pay tribute to the man who was the architect of the enduring success of the film production house.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994), Hum Saath-Saath Hain (1999), and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015) are just a few films that denote the recent family melodramas synonymous with the name of Rajshri Productions, one of the oldest family-owned production companies in the country. The man who started it all, the legendary Tarachand Barjatya, passed away on 21 September 1992. On the occasion of his 30th death anniversary, we remember the patriarch of the production house and the architect of its enduring success.

Born on 10 May 1914 at Kuchaman in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Tarachand completed his graduation from Vidyasagar College in Calcutta. At the age of nineteen, he started working as an unpaid apprentice in the film industry, gradually working his way up to establishing his own film distribution company, Rajshri Pictures (P) Ltd. on the day India became an independent nation, 15 August 1947.

As a distributor, Tarachand Barjatya brought several filmmakers from the South to Hindi cinema, with the renowned LV Prasad being one of them. In 1962, Barjatya set up the production division, with the first release being Aarti (1962). Produced by Tarachand Barjatya and directed by Phani Majumdar, the family melodrama starred Ashok Kumar, Meena Kumari, and Pradeep Kumar in the lead roles.

Focusing on small-budget, family melodramas, the films largely endorsed the Hindu joint family ethos, emphasising duty and sacrifice over individual choices. In Aarti, we see the eponymous protagonist (Meena Kumari) being a suffering woman, who performs her duty as a wife and daughter selflessly despite the several hurdles that she faces.

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The success of the film led to a firm move towards film production with hits like Dosti (1964), Piya Ka Ghar (1972), Chitchor (1976), Ankhiyon ke Jharokhon Se (1978), Nadiya Ke Paar (1982), Saaransh (1984), which carried the Rajshri imprint of being largely conservative, family-oriented films, driven by traditional ideals. The reins of the family business were passed down to the three sons, Raj Kumar, Ajit Kumar and Kamal Kumar, who continued to strengthen the family business.

Tarachand Barjatya

In her book, Bombay Before Bollywood: Film City Fantasies (2015), Rosie Thomas, professor of film at the University of Westminster, explains the strategy adopted by the production house that enabled them to grow steadily and minimise their losses. She writes: Rajshri Productions, a family company that also invested in its own films, made small-budget movies with minor stars and owed its success to a degree of vertical integration unique in the industry at that time. The company comprised three arms - production, distribution and exhibition - each conveniently run by one of founder/owner Tarachand Barjatya’s three sons.

She continued, “Rajshri operated by spreading risks: the production department worked on several films at a time and ensured their distribution through the company’s block booking of chains of cinemas throughout the country. Rajshri’s film financing was equally unique at that time in Bombay: it combined reinvesting in its own productions with a system whereby a number of investors bought shares in a film, the company having the status of a private limited company.”

However, despite its three-pronged strategy, the coming of video cassettes and cable television was beginning to hit the film business hard and Rajshri was not immune to the changes in the playing field. The group made a foray into television with the serial Paying Guest (1985) for Doordarshan. However, Rajshri suffered heavy losses and it was within this context that Tarachand’s grandson, Sooraj Barjatya, expressed his wish to direct a film. 

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In an interview in newspaper The Hindustan Times, Tarachand recounts how Suraj’s father, Raj Kumar Barjatya had doubts about producing a film directed by his son, when they were struggling with money. But Tarachand decided to move onward, and said, “I told Suraj to make out a story on the theme of Dosti and we would not be in loss.” Describing what clicked in the film to make it such a stupendous success, he said, “Any film must have five ingredients to make it a success at the box-office:theme, comedy, music, emotional appeal and drama. I notice that our film has all these, and it is very rarely one finds this happening.”

Sooraj Barjatya’s directorial debut, the film that catapulted Salman Khan to fame, Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), was the biggest success of the production company and gave it a lease of life. It also, in many ways, provided a template for the next few films to follow. With the class divide as the central point of conflict, the film wove a story of friendship, stressing familial ties, bringing in the theme of tradition versus modernity.

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Although Tarachand passed away in 1992, the company continued to grow and in 1994, Sooraj repeated the success of his debut film with Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! starring Khan once again with Madhuri Dixit. Through its ups and downs, the family has stuck to the founding principles put in place by its founding father and remains one of the most prominent production houses in the country even today. 

After a long hiatus, Sooraj has directed and written the upcoming film Uunchai (2022) starring Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher, Boman Irani and Parineeti Chopra. It remains to be seen if this film too will follow the ethos of Rajshri film like its predecessors. The film is due to be released on 11 November.