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Editorial Consultants
E. J. Kalwachia and
A. C. Patankar

Correspondents
A. I. Bhuvaneshwar (East)
F. K. Khapoliwalla (West)
Dhruv Sharma (New Delhi)
Vinod Kumar (Chennai)

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Nariman Bacha
S.R. Marolia

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Delshad Kumana

Assistant Editor
Rashna Ardesher

Editor
B. K. Karanjia

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Calling The Tune

Few in Godrej today may be aware that, in the late 1950s, a short film entitled The Godrej Story was shown on a Sunday morning to a full house of invitees at the Eros Cinema in Bombay. The film was scripted by this writer and made by the well-known documentary film-maker B.D. Garga, with Pratap Sharma doing the narration. Prints were also sent out to Godrej branches in metropolitan cities for the film to be shown in local cinema houses.

This came to mind recently at a private screening of Zafar Hai’s Merchant Princes of Bombay, featured elsewhere in this issue. The merchant princes dealt with are Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, who dominated the so-called China (read opium) trade; David Sassoon, who owned the most powerful trading house in the Orient; Premchand Roychand, whose home came to be labelled “a miniature stock exchange”; and another legendary Jamsetjee, Jamsetji Tata, who ushered the Industrial Revolution in India.

Introducing this film, Zafar Hai spoke of the financial constraints he experienced in making it. Somehow, these constraints seem to have operated more stringently on Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy’s story than on that of the other three “princes”. Which is a pity considering that Jejeebhoy in his own way stood out among the four, particularly as a pioneer of philanthropy in India. A man of vision, at a time when there were hardly any schools in Bombay, he instituted the J.J. School of Art, which was to achieve world standards and, realising that there was not a single hospital for civilian patients, he donated Rs. 1,50,000 towards building the magnificent J.J. Hospital. When a great fire devastated Surat in 1837, he sent an entire ship — consider the exuberance of the man, the flamboyance of his gesture — a ship loaded with provisions, bales of cloth, medicine, material for tents, and so on. When he visited his birthplace, Navsari, after a lapse of 50 years, he took goldsmiths with him to forge bracelets and necklaces for the local women. And when the goldsmiths ran out of gold, he sent for more goldsmiths to bring in more gold.

Jejeebhoy’s philanthropies were as diverse as they were generous. They were not confined to India. When France fell victim to a flood, he contributed £500 to the Lord Mayor’s Relief Fund set up in London, which made the grateful Prefect of the Seine convey to Jejeebhoy, through the Lord Mayor, “the gratitude of the entire French nation”. In truth, in good times, he was a godsend; in times of distress, a one-man relief centre, spreading joy and goodwill.

All these and other facts of his extraordinary career were made known to the director. Jejeebhoy lived his life as if an enchantment lay upon it, but in the comparatively limited footage allotted to him in the film, the enchantment doesn’t show, the man just doesn’t come alive. One gets the uncomfortable feeling sitting through this documentary that more than the contribution of the merchant princes themselves to the country, the contribution by their descendants to the film’s kitty has determined the allotment of footage. One is disappointed that a film-maker of Zafar Hai’s calibre and repute, who made The Taj of Apollo Bunder, which is recognised as a classic, should have allowed his judgement to be so swayed by monetary considerations. On second thoughts, Zafar Hai cannot really be blamed. Getting finance in India to make a documentary of this nature, leave aside the problem of obtaining the wide release such a film requires and deserves, is quite a nightmare, and the few financiers there are can be both demanding and exacting. It is the same old sad story — the piper paid, the tune called.


B.K. Karanjia