A study of the making of celebrated film-maker Jean Renoir’s film, The River shows that it was a product of Indian, British and even wider collaboration.
The River was a film adaptation of a novel of the same name that told the story of an English family that lived in Bengal. Its director Renoir, was French. Its author was British novelist Rumer Godden. After deciding to make the film, Jean Renoir invited Rumer Godden to USA to co-write the script of the film and also took her to India to shoot the film. Its producer was an American florist, but 70% of its funding, writes Godden, was Indian.
It was not only shot in Bengal, it also had a mix of English and Indian actors. Among them were: Suprova Mukherji who continued to play character roles in Bengali films, and Radha Burnier, a highly educated Theosophist and trained Bharatanatyam dancer from Madras who was a student and niece of the famous classical dancer, Rukmini Devi Arundale.
The River also had input from some other talented Indians in Calcutta. Foremost among them was Satyajit Ray, then a Calcutta-based ad film-maker who was rearing to turn into a feature film-maker. Ray contacted Renoir in Calcutta, met him regularly and also advised him on suitable locations for shooting The River.
Other Indians, some of whom were Ray’s friends, also gravitated towards Renoir, joined his film team, gained experience and also contributed in the making of The River. Among them were pioneering Indian art director / production designer and documentary filmmaker, Bansi Chandragupta, Indian cinematographer Subrata Mitra,talented photographer, Ramananda Sen Gupta and documentary filmmaker Harisadhan Dasgupta. Its music was given by M.A Parthasarathy and Subrata Mitra.
Not only Satyajit Ray, but all of them, went on to win wide acclaim in the world of cinema.
The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)