Franz Osten’s silent films tell varieties of Indian stories. The Light of Asia(Prem Sanyas) (1925) dealt with the life of Buddha. Shiraz (1928) dramatises the events that led to the construction of the Taj Mahal. A Throw of Dice (1929) was based on myths and legends drawn from Indian epic Mahabarata. These movies contributed to increasing the understanding of eastern religions and offered a feast for the senses by showing elephants in festive decoration amid thousands of extras. His huge sets were ideal for escaping from reality; dark-skinned women aroused desire, associating sexuality with primitiveness.
Since early 2000s, there has been a revived interest in silent films in general and the trilogy of Osten are in focus. Shiraz was shown at the Castro Theatre at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in 2002, Prem Sanyas at the same festival in 2005, and A Throw of Dice in 2008
This adaptation of Arnold’s 1861 Orientalist epic opens with documentary shots of tourists in Bombay watching street performers. Then a white-bearded old man sitting under the bodhi tree tells the tourists the story of Gautama (Rai), son of King Suddodhana (Ukil) and Queen Maya (Bala), who left his consort Gopa (Seeta) and became a wandering teacher credited with founding Buddhism. The religious epic, with its idealized figures, takes up the narrative in flashback and ends with Gopa kneeling before Gautama asking to become his disciple.
– Written by Sujit R. Varma
Directors: Himanshu Rai, Franz Osten