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Hiralal Sen (1866 – 1917)


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Bengali film pioneer born in Bakjuri village, Manikganj (now Bangladesh). India’s first film-maker with Bhatavdekar. The son of a lawyer, he started as photographer and achieved considerable renown. Almost definitely saw first-ever film show, at Star Theatres, featuring Prof. Stevenson’s shorts on double-bill with Star’s stage hit, The Flower of Persia (1898). His first film, made with equipment and guidance from Stevenson, was based on scenes from The Flower of Persia and shown at Star, with Stevenson’s package, in repeated shows that year. Acquired camera from London, a projector from Warwick Trading and set up Royal Bioscope (1899) with his brother, Motilal Sen. His best-known outlet was Amar Dutta’s Classic Theatre in Calcutta, where Royal initially exhibited imported footage (e.g. Transvaal War Pictures, Splendid Magical Exhibitions, A Few Marvellous Scenes of a Well-known Circus Played at Paris Exhibition) in intervals between stage shows. Best-known work in collaboration with Classic, filming scenes from its stage repertoire (1901-4). The partnership culminated in what was perhaps Sen’s only feature-length film, Alibaba and the Forty Thieves (the film’s length is disputed). Also did many request shows in private houses of landed gentry, command performances at the court of local maharajas, etc. Made some advertising films. Increasing competition from Madan Theatres in partnership with Pathe and the rise of several newer bioscope companies in Calcutta are among the reasons for Royal Bioscope’s decline. Apparently all its films were destroyed in a fire shortly before the studio closed down. Sen’s filmography is still a controversial issue among film historians. Further research will have to establish the definitive filmography.

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