Lights, camera, a picture book

R Dinakaran Chennai | Updated on January 22, 2018 Published on November 06, 2015

This rare image of the main cast and crew of the epic silent film “Light of Asia” shot in 1925 during a break in filming shows (from right to left) Barthe Schultes the Production Manager, Josef Wirsching the main Cameraman, Himanshu Rai the lead actor and producer of the film, Niranjan Pal the scriptwriter, Willie Kiermaier the other Cameraman and Modhu Bose with an additional cast member on the far left atop the ramparts of the Jaipur Palace.

This image shows Kamal Amrohi, Josef Wirsching, Meena Kumari and a few of Josef’s assistants during a break in filming in Kashmir for “Kamal Pictures” first film “Dil apna aur Preet Parai” released in 1959.

This image shows Kishore Sahu (the director), Meena Kumari (the lead actress), Josef Wirsching, Kamal Amrohi looking at Josef’s light meter, with an assistant in the background as they prepare for a shot for “Kamal Pictures” first film “Dil apna aur Preet Parai” released in 1959.

This rare image of the river banks of the temple town of Benares (Varanasi) was restored from a large format film negative shot by Josef during his overland travelogue documentation of the “Asian Journey” in 1927-28.

This image which was shot by one of Josef’s assistants shows Helen, Josef Wirsching and Charlotte Wirsching in a cabaret sequence for the song “Ithni Badi Mehfil” for the Kamal Amrohi produced classic film “Dil apna aur Preet parai” with a young Om Prakash as the bartender.

This image was an iconic scene from Bombay Talkies first classic film “Jawani-ki-Hawa” shot in 1935. This image was used in a lot of the publicity material for the film and shows the films two lead stars Devika Rani and Najmal Hussain.

This image was an iconic scene from the Bombay Talkies classic film “Achhut Kanya” 1936 which shows Ashok Kumar in his debut as a leading actor along with Devika Rani.

This image shows Josef servicing and recalibrating his cameras

This image was an iconic frame from the Bombay Talkies Classic film “Achhut Kanya” showing a very young Ashok Kumar in a scene from the movie which was shot in 1936

This image shows Helen in the song “Ithni Badi Mehfil” from the Kamal Amrohi Productions picture “Dil apna aur Preet Parai” 1959.

This iconic image shows a scene in the silent movie “The Light of Asia” where Buddha’s father; the king of Gaya being exasperated by his wife’s inability to conceive, commands his palace mahout to take the royal elephant out into the streets of Gaya to choose a child from his citizens to become the next heir to the kingdom of Gaya. The elephant returns to the palace without making a pick of any of the children it was offered. Miraculously after that the queen conceives Lord Buddha. This image was shot on location in the streets of Jaipur in 1925.

This iconic publicity portrait image of Devika Rani was from a scene in the Bombay Talkies studios classic hit film “Jeevan Naiya” 1936

Josef Wirsching family turns to crowdfunding to publish book on early years of Bollywood

The Light of Asia (Prem Sanyas) was an iconic silent film shot in 1925. The Indo-European production had several German technicians. One of them was a renowned cinematographer Josef Wirsching. In 1923, he was asked by the Emelka Film Studios in Munich, Germany, with whom he was working, to shoot the film.

Josef’s grandson Georg Wirsching says the film, shot entirely on location in India in 1925 with the help of three other German technicians, was released in 1926 to rave reviews throughout Europe due to its vivid visual authenticity. The first ever Indo-German Cinematic collaboration of this magnitude, it was also the most expensive movie ever shot at the time.

The last Indian movie Josef was involved with was Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezha. (Josef died in 1967 before completing the film. Pakeezha was released in 1972).

Josef’s decades of association with the German and Indian film industries has resulted in hundreds of rare photographs that bring to light the largely unknown early Bollywood era.

Collecter's edition

Georg Wirsching, who lives in Goa, has now undertaken the task of putting together “a highly detailed and visually rich collector’s edition picture book” that will comprise “Josef’s extensive personal photographic collection comprising thousands of photographic negatives and prints from Josef’s years of work in the German and Indian film industries”.

Georg says, “After years of inventorying and archiving the images in the collection; we are now putting together a highly detailed and visually rich collector’s edition picture book which will have never seen before images of publicity and production stills from most of the ‘Bollywood’ related movies that my Grandfather has worked on through his film-making career.”

Crowdfunding route

Georg has taken the crowdfunding route to publish the book through Wishberry so that he gets enough funds to publish a minimum 500 collector’s edition copies. The book will be released at an exhibition in Goa in December 2016. On display at the exhibition will be 100 A1 sized art prints of the best images from the book.

Why choose the crowdfunding route when the family could have published it in the normal way through a publisher? “We chose the crowd funding route to give the film loving public a chance to personally become a part of this project and avail themselves of the ability to get the book at a substantially low rate of only Rs 6,500. The book we will be bringing out will be at par with some of the best coffee table, picture book publications around. A book of this quality as a large format (12"x12"), hardcover, 250 pages, coffee-table glossy, picture book of 200+ vintage images digitally restored from Josef Wirsching's personal photographic collection depicting the early years of Bollywood and his contributions to it detailed in factually accurate essays along with well researched annotations for each image. The book would essentially be an educational source book for film lovers, students and Indian Film researchers in the future. Once available in retail, this book would be sold for anything between Rs 8,000-10,000.

"So in essence you could say that we are making this book available to people at an introductory rate which no publisher would be willing to do.”

The crowdfunding page says the Wirshing family was inspired “by Mr. P.K. Nair (ex-head of the National Film Archives of India) who visited us and gave us the sad news that precious little remains of Josef’s legacy at the Film Archives in Pune. Even the Askania Camera along with all its equipment that Josef's son, Wolfgang Peter Wirsching donated to the Film Institute in Pune for the students of filmmaking has disappeared. All that is left about Josef Wirsching are footnotes in the archives of time on web portals and blogs, with few images that were just screen grabs from old NFDC videos.”

The book will include essays on the personal aspects of Josef by Wolfgang Peter Wirsching, Assistant professor of Asian studies at New York’s Columbia University, Debashree Mukherjee and former Editor of The Times of India Dileep Padgaonkar

The crowd funding project is currently live until November 14 at this link: . The money collected will be refunded if the project is unable to meet the target by November 14.

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Published on November 06, 2015
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