Baburao Patel’s Filmindia magazine: A Walk Through its Pages and the Lives of the People Involved
Film Journalism began in 1935-when I started Filmindia. Not before that.
-Baburao Patel (1981)
Sidharth Bhatia wrote in the Introduction to his 2010 book ‘The Patels of Filmindia’ that Baburao Patel was an arrogant yet talented urbanite who was tactless, funny, and fearless: qualities which were admired in a writer who focused on the lives of celebrities. Baburao chalked the blueprint of film journalism which is often practiced today and accumulated a large readership.
Baburao born in 1904, studied at St Xavier’s school in Bombay but dropped out to work for a film magazine Cinema Samachar, which was reportedly published in Hindi, Urdu, and English. He went on to make five films between 1929 and 1935 and then partnered with D.N. Parker in a printing venture. The two decided to start a film magazine which could be supported by advertisements issued by people they knew. The monthly magazine Filmindia was launched in April 1935 and the very first issue was a great success. The magazine evolved with time and Baburao’s interests.
He wrote most of the magazine himself, praising the films he liked and dismissing any film he didn't. He did not spare anybody in the industry and used any insider information he could access about the stars in the magazine. Scandalous and instant attention-grabbing headlines like “Avoid Afsar  on health grounds”, “11,000 FT OF TORTURE” for Zid (1976), or “A wretched, boring hotch-potch” for Nargis (1946), were printed in the magazine. Dev Anand’s CID(1956) was described as an “unpleasant but stupid crime tale” where “Dev Anand fails to look like an inspector even for a single second” and Desh Desi (1935) was compared to “an old pair of trousers made serviceable by bright and colored patches”. Mala Sinha was called a “potato face”, Suraiya an “ugly duckling”, while G.P. Sippy was hailed as Mumbai’s “foremost producer of trash”. Apparently, these were some of the politer criticisms as The Print mentions.
Along with the review section, the magazine’s Editor’s Mail section which often ran up to five pages was about how its readers followed the magazine and the witty answers written by Baburao himself to the questions of his readers. It also had a Pictures in Making section where analyses of movies that were currently in production were provided. There was also a Bombay Calling gossip column written under the pseudonym of Judas (which many believed was Patel himself) served as gossip about everyone in the Hindi movie industry. Asha Batra, the co-founder of Cinemaazi, a digital repository of Indian cinema mentions that “Baburao was fully conscious of the power of the tool he held with Filmindia.” Sumant Batra, founder of Cinemaazi said to The Print that while literature in Filmindia may not have been encyclopedic, it enables us to understand cinema “by looking at it from a perspective that opens your mind to the realities of those times” and thus the magazine will always be an integral part of India’s cinema history in how it paved the way for film journalism.
But even as the magazine gained admirers, Baburao’s financial problems increased and he found himself bankrupt, with his wife Shireen somehow managing on a small budget to feed their four children and themselves. In 1942, Baburao “met with the most pleasant accident of my life”, as he would write later in his magazine in 1960. The “accident” was Sushila Rani Tombat, a young singer from Chennai, who was the daughter of a lawyer. After finishing school and college, Sushila moved to Udaipur to become a teacher, but a medical problem took her to Bombay for treatment, where she met and married Baburao. However, inspite of this, Sushila would always remain Baburao’s second wife, a situation which was made even more awkward when Baburao moved Shireen and his family into a large house he had acquired at some point along the way. There were other liaisons too. On the other hand, the magazine evolved. It was common to find his photographs in spreads of the magazine alongside Hollywood actresses, wearing well-tailored suits and hats, with details of his foreign trips. He was aware of the growing fascination audiences had with celebrities, and presented himself as someone who knew the trade and had enviable proximity to the stars. His question-and-answer columns exhibited how desperately his readers wanted to be on the inside:
Q. Are there any raw-ﬁlm manufacturers in India?
A. No. But we have directors who expose the ﬁlm and make it look rawer than ever before.
Q: What is the age of Mumtaz Shanti?
A: Ask me another, I can’t risk this one.
Q. What is the exact relationship between Anuradha and Rafiq Guznavi
A. Come, I give you the guess.
Q. Why do you have two wives?
A. What is going with your father? Ram Jethmalani was asked by a person personally whether his first wife is happy despite his having a second wife. He answered—Yes my first wife is happier than your only wife.
By 1937, Filmindia was reportedly selling thousands of copies a month in India and abroad. Writing under pseudonyms such as ‘Judas’ and ‘Hyacinth’ it was Patel and his wife, Sushila Rani, who created all the content for the 50-page magazine. Baburao was also intertwined with politics and along with The Bombay Chronicle‘s Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, launched a nationwide campaign against “anti-Indian” films in 1938 including “empire films” like The Drum (1938) and Gunga Din (1939), which reinforced imperialist stereotypes of the “racially inferior” and “weak” colonized subjects. Hundreds were out on the streets of Bombay in protest. Finally, The Drum was withdrawn by its Bombay distributors and then drastically censored and Patel and Abbas set up the Film Journalists’ Association (FJA) in 1939, which gave them a platform to tackle the “menace” of anti-India films.
In 1960, understanding that his magazine was taking a detour from cinema commentary to politics, he decided to rebrand it from film to social commentary and named it Mother India. Even after Baburao’s death in 1982, Sushila continued to publish the magazine until its 50th anniversary, which was something that was something they had decided. Once that task was completed, she went back to music, performing frequently at concerts, which her husband had prevented her from doing when he was alive. Sushila taught a selected few students and supported the cause of classical Hindustani music. She kept the memory of Baburao alive until she passed away on July 24, 2014.