Devika Rani was born into a wealthy, anglicised Indian family, she was the daughter of Col. M. N. Choudhury I.M.S. and Mrs. Leela Choudhury. Her father had a distinguished medical career and was the first Indian Surgeon General of Madras. Her Grand-uncle was Rabindranath Tagore, one of India's greatest poets. She was sent to boarding school in England at the age of nine and grew up in that country. She studied applied arts in London, specialising in textile designing and decor, and also architecture. She was already working as a textile designer at a leading art studio in London when she met Himanshu Rai, who persuaded her to join his production unit, to further the cause of Indian films.
In 1928, they got married. She assisted in costume design and art direction for Rai's experimental silent film A Throw of Dice in 1929. Both of them then went to Germany and received training in film-making at UFA Studios in Berlin.
The couple returned to India in 1934, after having been exposed to film making in Europe. His ambition was to bring these new cultural phenomena to the Indian people. This must have been harder than you think, because Himanshu Rai struggled to get this idea off the ground, primarily because of the money involved. He was meeting many people and trying to convince them about the magic of cinema but the effort was proving unsuccessful. He had the complete support of people such as F.E Dinshaw, Sir Feroze Sethna among others but they could not help him when it came to the crucial aspect of financing.
It was during this hunt for financiers that Himanshu Rai came in contact with Shri. Abhimanyu Prasad Singh, a close friend of Seth Badriprasad Dube, who was a well-known financier. He introduced Himanshu Rai, a London return actor/ theatre artist to Seth Badriprasad Dube with a dream of making a cinema company but Seth Badriprasad declined the proposal of funding Himanshu Rai because Seth Badriprasad had once financed the first Indian Talkie film Alam Ara which dint earn him any profit and he made an opinion that of only actors and directors get fame but the financier don't get profits. During that era the film business was not considered as a money earning business. It was more about the passion of cinema and getting fame. Because of this fact Seth Badriprasad Dube declined the proposal of financing Himanshu Rai.
Shri. Abhimanyu Singh spoke next to Seth Badri Prasad's son Shri. Rajnarayan Dube. He was a young and dynamic businessman who operated a successful company called Dube Industries, which he had founded in 1929. Shri. Dube was born on 10th October 1910 at Kalighat in Kolkata and was an ardent devotee of Maa Kali. He was influenced by the power of art and creativity at a young age. Both men met at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Colaba, Bombay and discussed an initial investment amount of Rs. 25 lakhs. However, Himanshu Rai couldn't not convince Rajnarayan Dube to invest the amount because of the dismal returns on investment that the Indian movie industry offered. At this point, it would seem that Bombay Talkies would never come to be, but things have a way of working out in unexpected ways.
A few months passed by and Himanshu Rai had grown increasingly despondent because it was becoming impossible to raise investment for his movie company. In his depression, the man attempted suicide but was unsuccessful. Shri. Rajnarayan Dube got wind of this through Shri Abhimanyu Prasad Singh and wondered about this man, one who so completely and wholeheartedly believed in the power of cinema and talking pictures that he did not see it fit to continue living if he couldn't follow his dreams. Rajnarayan Dube decided that Himanshu Rai was onto something here and finalised the investment with him soon after. In doing this, Shri. Rajnarayan Dube went deliberately against the advice of his father, Seth Badriprasad Dube, who felt that this would not be a good investment choice. In doing this, Shri. Rajnarayan Dube gave birth to the Indian Film Industry, which has now gone on to become a huge cultural and financial force in the country.
Rajnarayan Dube founded the Legendary Film Company, The Bombay Talkies Studios along with its associate companies Bombay Talkies Laboratories and Bombay Talkies Pictures as individual proprietorship companies. At the same time to add more people he established the first public limited film company of India The Bombay Talkies Limited in June 1934, although all companies were commonly known as Bombay Talkies. As Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani were actors they were given some shares of the company as their remuneration. Some films were produced under the banner of The Bombay Talkies Limited also, but most of the films were produced under The Bombay Talkies Studios, Bombay Talkies Laboratories and Bombay Talkies Pictures. The Bombay Talkies Studios also successfully Distributed, Processed and Promoted films of other producers and banners other than their own films. All the films were financed by Rajnarayan Dube in his individual capacity as the owner of his proprietorship finance company Dube Industries.
On 15 April, 1934, Bombay Talkies began operations. The movie company was named by Shri. Dube's mother, Shrimati Gayatri Devi. Though Light of Asia and Karma a concept which Himanshu Rai built during his days in Europe, it was released in 1925 and 1933 respectively. As the release went unnoticed, Rajnarayan Dube re-released them and the first films to come out of the stables were Light of Asia and Karma in 1934. It was followed by Jawani ki Hawa, Achhut Kanya and Jeevan Naiya. The movie company operated along a principle of keeping the creative aspects and business aspects separate. Shri. Rajnarayan Dube would look into the business end of things and both Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani would immerse themselves in the creative pursuit. This approach gave rise to some of the most technically impressive films seen this side of the planet. The technical prowess was due to the movie studio employing German and other European technicians, prominent among them being Franz Osten.
Himanshu Rai's original vision for a movie production house sowed the seeds for the formation of Indian cinema as an industry, Shri. Rajnarayan Dube single-handedly architected the business angle of the entire industry which was yet to come. He supported various new theatres such as BN Sircar's New Theatres in Calcutta, V Shantaram's Prabhat Pictures, Homi Wadia's Wadia Movietone, Sohrab Modi's Minerva Movietone, LV Prasad's Prasad Labs and Pictures, SM Vasan's Gemini Pictures and Mehboob Khan's theatres. Shri. Dube financed these fledgling companies and made them stronger. In essence, he builds the entire movie ecosystem in the country. Everyone whom Shri. Dube supported went to on build a name for themselves in the industry.
Shri. Rajnarayan Dube had a big vision for Indian Cinema. He wanted Indian film making to be a respectable profession. He thus stipulated that Bombay Talkies would only hire graduates. He hoped this move would legitimise the Indian film industry of the thirties and forties, and it certainly did. Besides this, Shri. Dube also wanted the Indian film industry to be inclusive of Indians from all states and sectors of life. Even though the movie company worked with European technicians, Shri. Dube would bring on Indian technicians and make sure that they learnt the art of movie making. He also brought a lot of Indian writers on-board so that movies could have an Indian cultural sensitivity and thus could appeal to a large amount of people. This move gave rise to a whole new Indian profession, movie making! This seemed to be a good move in the light of circumstances that were yet to arrive.
During one scene in the movie Karma, there was a minute long kissing scene between Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani onscreen. During re-release the film some extra controversial scenes was shot at that time for the sake of sensational purpose. This caused quite a stir in Indian society then Seth Badriprasad Dube father of Shri. Rajnarayan Dube was furious about the scene. Himanshu Rai apologised and held his ears' and said that it would not happen again. After that incident, Shri. Dube however, resolved to screen all films by himself before they could be released. He was a Brahmin and a conservative and strictly discouraged smoking, drinking and other vices in the studio premises. He was also a very caring employer for those pioneering people who worked at Bombay Talkies. He made sure that Education, Rent, Food and other daily necessities were provided free of cost to employees of Bombay Talkies. He also championed the rights of the movie industry by setting up Unions and Associations such as IMPPA, of which Bombay Talkies was the first member. He also helped grow the regional film industry. He staunchly supported Marathi, Hindi, Bengali and Southern cinema. If it wasn't for Shri. Dube, the Indian movie industry would have resembled other Southeast Asian movie industries from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Bollywood today is big enough to compete with Hollywood movies.
During the Second World War, Bombay Talkies was struggling. The war had made things very difficult in many ways. The company had several movies on the floor but they could not get them finished because the crucial German technicians had been arrested and detained by the British Government. At this point, 15-20 films were on the production floor and were stalled pretty badly. Himanshu Rai suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of this and passed away in 1940. Bombay Talkies had just lost its crucial one of the founder on whose vision the entire company stood to be successful. Shri. Rajnarayan Dube decided that Rai's vision for Indian cinema would continue and he again invested four lakh ten thousand rupees into the venture. This injected some much needed blood into the company and a new era of Indian film making began.
She is remembered today as being the first lady of the Indian screen. For her contribution to Indian Cinema, the President of India awarded her the decoration of 'Padma Shri', and she was the first ever recipient of the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke award in 1970.
After the Bombay Talkies started to fade and she married Russian painter Svetoslav Roerich in 1945. She left films shortly and joined her husband in Bangalore in their sprawling estate 'Tataguni' on Kanakpura Road, where she lived till her death in 1994, though maintained her link with the film industry.
Recently in an event, Mr. Chandra Shekhar Pusalkar Phalke, grandson of the father of Indian Cinema Dada Saheb Phalke said, With the establishment and work culture of Bombay Talkies, Rajnarayan Dube has played a great historic role in nurturing and developing Indian film industry. He gave it the form of an organised industry and made it to be accepted as a respectful form of art by the civilised society. He further added, Like Dada Saheb Phalke, Rajnarayan Dube also faced all kinds of conflicts and the result of his immense struggle is visible like a World Heritage Site in the form of Bombay Talkies today. He strongly affirmed, If Mr. Rajnarayan Dube was not there, there would be no Himanshu Rai, neither Devika Rani nor there would be Bombay Talkies.