indian cinema heritage foundation

Hemchandra Chunder

  • Born: 1907
  • Died: 4 December 1964 (Calcutta)
  • Primary Cinema: Hindi

Hemchandra Chunder, also known as Hem Chunder, was a Hindi-Bengali writer, director and producer, who directed a majority of films for New Theatres. He was the Calcutta-based studio’s principal Hindi film director between 1935 and 1948, in its efforts to enter the Western India market. Debuting in B N Sircar’s short-lived company International Filmcraft, he acted in Prafulla Roy’s silent Chasher Meye (1931). He made his directorial debut in 1935, co-directing with Premankur Atorthy. His directorial Karodpati (1936) was one of K L Saigal’s best-known musicals. Anath Ashram (1937), starring Prithviraj Kapoor and scripted by novelist Sailajananda Mukherjee, made an influential intervention in the Bengali genre of the literary melodrama. He turned independent producer in collaboration with actress Meera Mishra, setting up H M Productions in the 1940s. Among the approximately 18 films he directed are Parajay (1939), Jawani Ki Reet (1940) and Madh Bhare Nain (1955). Films that he wrote include Parajay (1939) and Jawani Ki Reet. He had been a member of the committee that presented the National awards.

Born in 1907, he co-directed the Urdu/ Hindi costume action-adventure film Karwan-e-Hayat along with Premankur Atorthy for New Theatres, Calcutta in 1935. The cast included K L Saigal, Rattan Bai, Pahadi Sanyal, Rajkumari, Shyama Zutshi, Gul Hamid, Molina, Siddiqi, Kapoor and Rana. A costume drama, the film revolved around Prince Pervez who is on the run from an arranged marriage to a princess, only to fall in love with her when they meet in unusual circumstances.

Karodpati (1936), which he directed next, showcased Saigal performing a farcical-comedy role which marked a departure from the typical tragedy-based stories that he featured in. The story revolves around a cinema-crazy young man who wins a lottery, leading to a series of comedic situations when his friends join him. The functioning of the film world is shown with humorous elements in everyday situations. It is one of the most famous musicals of the actor-singer. 

Anath Ashram, Chunder’s directorial of 1937, was a reformist drama about widow remarriage. The story revolved around Jai Narain, owner of a colliery, who forms a happy family with his wife, his daughter Saroj, son-in-law Kailash, an engineer at the colliery, and their son Nannha. When Kailash dies in a colliery accident caused by Jai Narain, Nannha is sent to an orphanage and Saroj marries Ramesh, who loves her but is unaware of her previous marriage or of being a stepfather, while Saroj misses her dead husband and longs for her absent son. A former suitor, Ranjit appears, knowing her past history. Repeated scenes show Nannha pining for his mother.

His 1939 directorial Parajay starred Kanan Devi, Chhabirani, and A H Shore among others. The plot depicted a lawyer Bholanath Roy who adopts Anita (Kanan Devi) who grows up into a beautiful and fashionable teenager. She meets Dilip, who happens to be the lawyer's estranged son, working on a flood-relief programme and they fall in love. Their lineage problems (she does not know hers, he keeps his a guilty secret) are solved when Bholanath dies, leaving his estate to Dilip and thus rehabilitating him as well as their relationship.

The year 1941 saw the release of his Bengali directorial titled Pratisruti, a drama genre film starring Asit Baran, Ratin Banerjee, and Chhabi Biswas

Saugandh (1942) saw him direct Pahadi Sanyal, Bharati Devi, and Asit Baran among others. The plot revolved around a father who worries for his younger son Arun and asks his elder son to promise that he will do everything in his power to ensure Arun does not go astray, educates himself and becomes an independent man. However, fate has other plans. When Arun commits an unthinkable crime, his brother fulfills the promise made to their father and shields his younger sibling from all harm.

The romantic drama Wapas (1943) depicted two young friends who bond when they visit the village fair. They fall in love. What seems like a simple story soon turns into a conflict zone between families, whose hurt pride causes their love to suffer. A tale of wronged love, it followed the young lovers who are challenged to bury their differences and possibly find love again. 

Meri Bahen (also called My Sister), the 1944 Hindi language film he directed for New Theatres, was the fourth highest-grossing Indian film of the year. The star cast comprised K L Saigal, Sumitra Devi, Akhtar Jehan, Chandrabati Devi, Nawab, and Tulsi Chakraborty. Cited as Saigal’s best film at New Theatres technically, it was set against the backdrop of World War II in Calcutta. Portraying the story of a schoolteacher and his young sister, the film followed his rise to fame as a singer and the changes in his relationships following a bomb-raid.

Other directorials of his include Pratibad (1948), Bishnupriya (1949), and Chhoti Ma (1952), followed by Ashok Films’ Chitrangada (1954) featuring Utpal Dutt, Jiban Ganguly, Jahar Ray and Mala Sinha. Madh Bhare Nain (1955) saw him direct Kishore Kumar, Yashodra Katju and Bina Rai in a romantic comedy revolving around the lead character Shyam who flees to Darljeeling when his family begins battling each other over who the young man should marry. During the train trip he falls in love with Malti, not realising she is one of the girls his family has chosen.

Teen Bhai (1955) saw him direct Bharat Bhushan, Hiralal, Nasir Hussain, Leela Mishra, Nirupa Roy and Shyama. It was followed by Bandhan (1956), starring Meena Kumari, Pradeep Kumar and Motilal in a family drama genre film. Its plot revolved around a girl named Bani whose parents, in order to get their share of inheritance, must get her married before she turns 18, to a suitable Brahmin boy, as per her grandfather's condition. Belonging to a rich and affluent family, Bani is married off to a poor but good-hearted preacher Amarnath. The rest of the film explores whether Bani will accept her fate. 

In 1958 he directed Manmoyee Girls School, a Bengali drama film which was a remake of the 1935 film of the same name. It starred Uttam Kumar, Bhanu Bannerjee, Karuna Bannerjee, Dhiraj Bhattacharya, Arundhati Devi and others. A comedy genre film adapted from a successful play by Rabindranath Maitra, it revolved around a school set up the zamindar Damodar Chakraborty named after his wife. He recruits a married couple as teachers. A young man and woman pretend to be married in order to secure their respective jobs. Their deception—together with the fact that they belong to different religions—produces complications. The Hindi film Miss Mary(1957) is also based on the same premise. 

Two years later, he directed the Bengali language drama film Natun Fasal (1960) starring Kali Bannerjee, Biswajeet Chatterjee, Supriya Choudhury, Nilima Das and others. It was produced by New Theatres Exhibitors Pvt. Ltd. Sarkar Productions. 

Due to prolonged illness, Chunder had moved to Rajgir to restore his health. He passed away on 4 December 1964 in Rajgir following a heart attack. His last rites were performed in Calcutta. 


Image credit:  Abir Bhattacharya