Nov 22, 2014

Seeta Devi and Himansu Rai in Prem Sanyas - 1925

The translation of the Dutch text on the back of this postcard reads: “Seeta Devis plays in the new Indian film by Emelka: ‘Boeddha, De roeping van een koningszoon’, the role of Princess Gopa. Like all the other actors in the film she is not a professional, but was especially for this part discovered by director Franz Osten. When Osten heard that she would be the perfect type he was looking for, he traveled for 56 hours by train through burning hot India. And he made this beautiful, only 16 year old Indian girl a film star.” In fact the birthname of Seeta Devi (1921) is Renee Smith. She made her film debut in this film, officially called Prem Sanyas (or Die Leuchte Asiens, 1925). This German production was co-directed by Franz Osten and by the other actor on the postcard. Himansu Rai. Seeta Devi would act in ten more films.

Himansu Rai (1895-1940) was born into a wealthy Bengali family. While training as a lawyer in London in the early 1920s, he began acting in plays. In London he met his later wife Devika Rani who designed film sets and who continued to work with him. In 1933 he joined forces with IBP of England and wholly produced Karma (1933), a bilingual in English and Hindi. But the Nazi seizure of power in Germany caused Rai to abandon international co-productions and so he decided to concentrate on the domestic film market in India.In 1934, he formed Bombay Talkies Ltd. and built a studio. Under his painstaking supervision, it purchased the most modern equipment from Germany. Franz Osten and a handful of technicians came down from England and Germany to work with him. By 1935, a stream of Hindi productions had begun to emerge from the studio. The advent of World War II meant that the studio's German technicians as well as director Franz Osten were interned by the British, which crippled the studio. Overwork and mental strain eventually took its toll on Rai, who suffered a nervous breakdown which he never recovered from, and he died in 1940.

Sources: IMDb and postcard.