Interview with Janine Bharucha - Daughter of Jean Bhownagary

Janine Bharucha


1) What was the educational and professional background of your father Jean Bhownagary?

My father had a French mother, so his school life was half in India and half in France. He was interested in art at an early age. He did theater and comedy in his youth and he was a very well known actor. He was known as one of the five kings of comedy. My father was also into magic at an early age, starting when he was just 8 years old. Magic was his big passion, along with poetry, pottery, and printing. He also learned the art of leather and silver jewellery making from Denmark. He used to practice yoga at home and had learnt yoga from the Iyengar family.

2) What do you know about his role in Films Division?

I was 8 years old at the time when he joined Films Division. He was very stimulated by his work there. He initially had a tough time in the Films Division, where somebody would not give him the leeway he needed to get the work done.  However, he managed. He had a very short tenure with Films Division. He worked with great musicians such as Mr. Ravi Shankar and Mr. Vijay Raghav Rao. My father was a great discoverer of talents and he used to encourage work worship. He was a friend and philosopher to his staff and gave them lots of freedom in their work.

3) He was involved with the organization on two occasions during his career. I assume these positions where held in different contexts. Could you tell me more about the specificities of each position held?

Though he had a short tenure in Films Division, he worked there twice in his career. He was Deputy Chief Producer between 1953 and 57 and was then appointed Chief Producer in 1965. During his second tenure, he was immersed in the creative side. He discovered new artists and talents and gave them freedom and trust to work. The famous painter Mr. M. F. Husain also made and directed his film Through the Eyes of a Painter with Films Division during this period.

4) How did his career at UNESCO influence his management of Films Division?

He joined UNESCO through idealism. For my father, UNESCO was not as creative as Films Division. Films Division was the time when he we was at his most stimulated self. At UNESCO, though he was an administrator and head of mass communication, he did make and produce a few films. He was at the end disillusioned by UNESCO, and also a bit weary. When working in India, he was borrowed from UNESCO by Mrs. Indira Gandhi who was the Minister of Information and Broadcasting and later became Prime Minister. He did not spend much time in India, and spent the rest of his career at UNESCO in Paris.

5) What was his general vision for the documentary film?

He arrived at the Films Division at a very important moment. India was finding itself as a country after independence.  He was a visionary and he wanted to put creativity into documentary and newsreels, and also involve other people than journalists into documentary making. He was involved in the Indian New Wave movement. He wanted to open new eyes on the documentary. That is why he was a revolutionary visionary. He also liked the National Film Board of Canada, which at that time was like the foundation for the Films Division.

6) What novelty did his films bring to the Indian documentary films?

There were two major aspects that he brought into Indian documentary films: editing and music. He also brought in a new vision where one was not to get too influenced by documentaries made in the past, but at the same time one had to acknowledge the genius of these great documentary makers of the past.

7) Did he change the organization of Films Division during his two mandates? In what ways?

He was not satisfied with being just an administrator in Films Division.  Even in UNESCO he was not happy being restricted to the administration side. He had the talent of spotting and recognizing people who were not even supposed to be filmmakers. He encouraged and empowered them. He was an inspiring and encouraging presence in the Films Division.

8) What was his relation with the Indian art cinema? Did he try to create links between art cinema and the documentary film? How?

Mr. Satyajit Ray and my father were very good friends. They were on the jury of film festivals together many times. My father was interested in animation. He worked with Trinka and was in the jury of many animation festivals. He was influenced and inspired with the French New Wave, which certainly had an influence on Films Division.

9) His time at FD corresponds to the slow introduction of television in India. How did your father perceive television as a medium, in contrast with the documentary film? What kind of collaborations did he develop with television?

I do not remember him being involved with television. We did not have television at home.

10) Some of FD films were promoted in film festivals abroad. What do you know about this specific aspect of the documentaries international circulation and their significance?

Some of FD films were promoted in film festivals abroad. What do you know about this specific aspect of the documentaries international circulation and their significance?

11) Has the Bhownagary family or any other organization kept personal papers, photographs or memorabilia of Jean Bhownagary's years in Films Division?

When my father died, we went through a lot of his papers and photocopied many for Mr. Peter Sutoris (researcher). I think Mr. Peter Sutoris would be having most of these now.


- Dr. Camille Deprez (2015)