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Activist, Scholar, Dandy

Gyandev of India

APRIL 9, 2018
"You may not know this, but they make movies in India…"

On April 9, 1943, Gyandev of India premiered at the Little Carnegie Playhouse in New York City, the first all sound motion picture from India to be exhibited in the U.S.

An article in the San Francisco Chronicle two years earlier described Ram Bagai's efforts to bring Indian films to the U.S. "You may not know this, but they make movies in India…," the article began.

The film opened to generally favorable reviews. "Sound and photography are excellent, perhaps a cut above usual Hollywood standards," one review stated.

Bagai's employer, Plum Brook Ordinance Works of Sandusky, published an article in its newsletter congratulating him on the successful premiere of the film.

After 1943, Bagai showed “Gyandev” at various cinema art houses, Indian-American cultural events, and universities.

The film came into controversy in 1951, when a professor at the University of Hawaii who saw the film wrote a letter to the Consulate General of India criticizing its depiction of India. The professor decried that the film was "most derogatory and damaging to India" in its depiction of the "worst aspects of untouchability, caste and religious distinctions, beggary and the most absurd miracles performed in the name of Yoga."

A series of correspondence between Bagai and M.R. Ahuja, the Consulate General, followed. Eventually, Bagai agreed to Ahuja’s request to pull the film from circulation in the interest of India-U.S. relations.

Bagai's efforts to bring Indian cinema to the U.S. didn't end there, however. Read more in: 'The Dancing Ranee': Bollywood in Sixties California

See more materials related to Gyandev of India in the archive.