Int.: Patience Cooper. Prod.: Madan Theatres Ldt. DCP. D.: 55’. Bn.
Original music composed by Keyvan Chemirani, performed by Keyvan Chemirani (percussion, Indian santoor, drum, udu, Persian zarb), Benjamin Moussay (piano), Sylvain Barou (Bansuri flute, Armenia duduk), Michel Guay (cithara, tanpura) and recorded by Léon Rousseau at L.E. Diapason laboratory.
From the prolific film production in India during the silent period, most of which has disappeared, we miraculously came upon Béhula, filmed in India by Camille Legrand in 1921 for Madan Theatres Ltd studios. As a camera operator for Pathé from 1905 to 1920, Legrand knew India well, having spent long periods in the country. In 1921 he joined forces with J.F. Madan, with whom he made at least five films in Calcutta. For Béhula, adapted from a Bengali legend in the Manasa Mangal – the epic cycle dedicated to the Snake Goddess, Manasa – he called in one of Madan studios’ Anglo-Indian stars, Patience Cooper. Born in Calcutta in 1905, her family were part of the Jewish-Iraqi diaspora. She was the best-known of the Cooper sisters (Patience, Violet and Pearl), and she started out as a dancer on the stage. Like Ruby Meyers (aka Sulochana), Cooper belonged to that generation of ‘modern girls’ whose European education and pale complexion made them more attractive to early Indian cinema. The exterior locations echo the context in which the film was shot, with swaying cardboard sets animated by the breeze and the impromptu presence of passers-by finding their way into the storyline. Béhula takes as its plot the rivalry between the goddesses Chandi, wife of Shiva, and Manasa, his daughter. The merchant Chand Sadagar is a faithful devotee of Chandi, and Manasa attempts to attract him. Rejected by Chand Sadagar, Manasa condemns his son, Lakhindar, to perish on the night of his marriage to the beautiful Béhula. The next morning, Béhula discovers her husband’s inanimate body after he suffers a snakebite. She sets out on a long voyage along the Ganges until she succeeds in bringing him back to life. Legrand returned the negatives to France and they miraculously survived in an excellent state of preservation in the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé collection held at the CNC.