J F Madan and Madan Theatres
Jamshedji Framji Madan CBE (1856-1923) is considered one of the founding fathers of Indian cinema. Initially operating as the Elphinstone Bioscope Company, Madan Theatres grew to become the largest filmmaker, distributor and theatre business in India. The company is credited with having brought the early film business to Kolkata and at its peak, Madan Theatres controlled half of India’s box office income and is said to have owned or controlled 127 theatres. Madan and his companies were responsible for a number of firsts in Indian cinema, including:
- the country’s first purpose-built cinema, the Elphinstone Picture Palace in Kolkata
- first Bengali feature
- first Bengali talkie
- first feature film set in Calcutta
- first cinema equipped for sound (Elphinstone Picture Palace)
- first talkie exhibited in India
- first re-make in India cinema (Satyawadi Raja Harishchandra)
- first cinema chain
In 1902, Madan-owned Corinthian Theatre was the setting for some of the earliest sound recordings produced in India and 30 years later Indra Sabha was released with a record 71 songs in one film. This record is officially recognised by Guinness World Records and remains unbeaten.
The business would also play an important role in the final decades of the Raj, producing short films recording key moments in Indian history (some of which survive to this day), as well as filming and exhibiting at the 1911 Delhi Durbar.
Madan’s trading company (known as J F Madan) was founded in 1885 and had stores dotted across the country. This was a wholesale and retail business which became one of the leading suppliers to the government and the military, serving the army across the country. It was this enterprise which enabled Madan to invest and expand his theatre business so rapidly.
The success of both his mercantile and theatre businesses represented a considerable turnaround for a man who, at the age of just 11, had been forced to leave his formal education due to the failure of a land reclamation scheme in Bombay. But it was not to last. J F died in 1923 and the Wall Street Crash hit the company very hard. By the mid-1930s the theatre empire and most of the film business had gone.
Today Madan Street in central Kolkata still honours J F Madan’s philanthropy which included considerable donations to Calcutta’s poorest people and the Parsi community. A few topical films survive and the NFAI have successfully recovered parts of two Madan-produced feature films. With the single-screen era now over, but interest in the origins of Indian film growing by the day, work is underway to better record and preserve this important period in the country’s history.
Purpose of this website
This website does not set out to tell this long and complex story in full but was established a resource for people looking to find out more about J F Madan and his work in film, theatre, business and philanthropy. Although called “Madan Theatres Research Group” (Madan Theatres was formally registered as a limited company in 1919), the business entities the site is concerned with include:
Elphinstone Bioscope Company (precursor to Madan Theatres Ltd.)
Madan Theatres Ltd.
J F Madan (trading name of Madan’s mercantile business)
J F Madan & Co
Within these businesses there were several organisational entities (Alfred Company and Corinthian Theatre Company) to name a few. This site is strictly a research venture and does not represent the current Madan Theatres Ltd. business.
The site is maintained Ashley Coates, with research support from Gool Madan Ardeshir and Anjali Dhar. All three are descendants of J F Madan and are supported in their research through a network of cousins, historians and film enthusiasts.
If you would like to stay up-to-date with the news, discoveries and other updates from this group, please follow our Facebook page. If you are after a family tree, there is a public one available here. Please get in contact if you would like to make a contribution or need any help in finding information relevant to Madan Theatres.