Life & Times of Tarachand Barjatya, the Force Behind Rajshri Films
In a few months Rajshri Pictures will complete 70 years and a few days ago, was the 103rd birth anniversary of the man who made this possible, Tarachand Barjatya. Here’s looking back at how the legacy was created.
A young boy from a traditional family is sent out of the city to study. He is hardworking and honest and becomes so popular with everyone that his seniors support him in following his dream. There is no looking back, but no matter how high he rises, his family comes first.
If the plot sounds like a Rajshri film, you are not far from the truth. This is the story of Tarachand Barjatya, the man who built Rajshri Pictures. Born in the summer of 1914 in a Marwari family in Kuchaman, Rajasthan, his father emphasized on education and sent Tarachand to Vidyasagar College in Calcutta (now Kolkatta) to complete his graduation.
It is reported that Tarachand Barjatya’s father wanted him to study law after completing his Bachelor of Arts. But Tarachand was not interested. He would stretch on the back bench of the class and read film magazines. When senior Barjatya discovered this, he wasted no time in enrolling his son as an apprentice with Moti Mahal theatres, even though they could not afford to pay him any stipend. The year was 1933.
For five years Tarachand worked tirelessly and won everyone’s heart. Moti Mahal also owned a film distribution business in south India, called Chamaria Talkie Distributors, which was not doing well. Tarachand was deputed there to take care of the business in Madras (today Chennai). It was his astute business acumen and communication skills that changed the destiny of Moti Mahal theatres and they have always acknowledged this. His good relations with all top producers, be it AVM Productions, Gemini Studios, Vijaya Productions and SS Vasan, proved fruitful to his company and ultimately himself.
There is an interesting story about how Rajshri Pictures was born. SS Vasan had produced an exorbitant production Chandralekha, that failed miserably all over south India. Vasan was distressed and Tarachand advised him to dub Chandralekha in Hindi. Vasan was unfamiliar with the language and therefore unconfident. But Tarachand assumed all responsibilities. Vasan was overwhelmed and suggested that Tarachand distribute the film all over India. It meant opening offices overnight all over the country, but Tarachand took the leap and thus Rajshri Productions was born. The year was 1948.
As destiny would have it, Chandralekha was a roaring success in Hindi and there was no looking back for Rajshri Pictures. Some of the films the banner chose to distribute then included projects that nobody was willing to touch at the time, like Sohrab Modi’s Sheesh Mahal (1950) and Vijay Bhatt’s Baiju Bawara (1952). But again, they proved super successes at the box-office.
Those were days of the freedom struggle and while the country was fighting for independence, Tarachand Barjatya was aspiring for his personal freedom. Call it a co-incidence but Tarachand launched his film distribution company on August 15, 1947, and named it Rajshri Pictures Pvt Ltd. All the relationships he had built as the General Manager of Moti Mahal Theatres came handy.
Rajshri Pictures was among the first outfits to bring all the leading south banners into mainstream Hindi cinema. The producers trusted Tarachand and the fact that his company would be distributing their films too, was a further incentive. Gemini Productions’ big budget film Chandralekha (1948) was a super duper hit and there was no looking back.
In the coming decade, as Tarachand Barjatya settled down in his personal life and expanded his family, he felt that the time had come to take another leap in his career. In 1960, after consulting his friends, he launched Rajshri Productions Pvt Ltd. In 1961 he was ready to roll his premier production and in 1962 came Aarti, a super story featuring Ashok Kumar, Meena Kumari and Pradeep Kumar, packaged with hit compositions by Roshan, with lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri.
In the following years Tarachand gave a hat-trick. Dosti (1964) was his favourite film about two disabled friends rejected by society, Suraj (1966), with which music director Shankar launched singer Sharda, and finally Taqdeer (1967) starring Bharat Bhushan, was a family drama with the popular number Papa Jaldi Aa Jana.
Life seemed like a perfect screenplay and usually this is the time for a twist in the story. Not in Barjaya’s story though. He lived a life without villains and vamps, protected by the blessings of Aurobindo, and this reflected in all his film and characters. His critics panned his brand of cinema, but he continued to make wholesome family entertainers and actors looked forward to starring in his productions. Tarachand Barjatya was known for sustaining friendships.
Satyajit Ray agreed to dub Kapurush Mahapurush (1965) in Hindi because Tarachand convinced him about the film’s need to reach a wider audience.
In the 70s Tarachand Barjatya was assisted by his able sons Kamalkumar, Rajkumar and the second generation of Rajshri Pictures. During this decade the banner produced approximately 20 films that launched multiple careers. It introduced Raakhee with Dharmendra in Jeevan Mrityu and then reintroduced her after marriage and motherhood in Tapasya (1976). It unveiled teenage sensations Sachin and Sarika in Geet Gaata Chal (1975) and the girl next door Rameshwari in Dulhan Wahi Jo Piya Man Bhaye (1977). Rajshri was also the first to pair Amol Palekar and Zarina Wahab in Chitchor (1976) and the first ones to bring Mithun Chakraborty and Ranjeeta Kaur together in Tarana (1979).
The banner featured the best artistes in the best stories at the time. Jaya Bhaduri in Uphaar (1971) and Piya Ka Ghar (1972), Amitabh Bachchan paired with the magnificent Nutan in Saudagar (1973) and Naseeruddin Shah in Sunayna (1979), where Rameshwari met with a fatal accident falling off the horse and damaging her eye permanently.
The 80s was a decade of multi starrers but Rajshri Pictures, now operating from a sprawling office in the heart of Mumbai’s Prabhadevi, still retained that content is the conscience and the king. While most of them were making crime plots, Rajshri Pictures focused on smaller, more meaningful cinema. They were still launching new faces like Anupam Kher in Saraansh, Madhuri Dixit in Abodh (1984) and simultaneously working with established actors like Raakhee and Shabana Azmi. Not all these films were successful. In fact, there came a time when all their films : Manokamna, Jiyo Toh Aise Jiyo, Tumhare Bin and Raksha Bandhan were disasters, which was totally unexpected from a banner of their stature.
Something was terribly wrong somewhere and the reason Tarachand Barjatya wasn’t rattled is because he saw the solution coming.
In 1989, Tarachand Barjatya’s grandson and Rajkumar Barjatya’s son Sooraj Barjatya, released Maine Pyaar Kiya, which was a super success and became a reference point for generations of filmmakers to come. Spontaneously or by design, Sooraj had walked into his grand father’s footsteps, combining a great story with great music, introducing a new face Bhagyashree, re-introduced a star Salman Khan, and most importantly, reviving wholesome entertainment, that had been the trademark of the Rajshri banner.
Tarachand Barjatya was at peace about the fact that Rajshri was in the right hands and passed away in 1992. At that time, Sooraj was making Hum Aap Ke Hain Koun, and says that he will always regret that his grandfather did not witness his mega success, based on the banner’s old film Nadiya Ke Paar. In the years to come, Sooraj remade Chitchor as Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon (2003), though not as successfully, and paid tribute to the ideal joint family in Hum Saath Saath Hain (1997). His Vivaah (2006) was an insight into arranged marriages and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015) gave us a glimpse into the lives of royalty.
A few years ago, I was invited for a wedding in the Barjatya family. I went for it only because I was curious to decipher the reel from the real. But the fact is, I got even more confused, because the celebrations felt like being on multiple sets of Sooraj Barjatya films.
(Bhawana Somaaya has been writing on cinema for 30 years and is the author of 13 books. Twitter: @bhawanasomaaya)