Menoka Has Hanged Herself: Psychological tale of exploitation faced by women

cinema, cinema in india

Menoka, the heroine of Bharat Talkies, had risen to fame too fast and too soon, and there were many who would have liked to see her dragged in the dust.

A prostitute-turned-star, Menoka, the leading actress of the 1930s, hung herself by her own sari, the costume of her new film. She had nothing much to lose or gain. She had fallen prey in the hands of those who had given her power, fame and fortune. Many unknown and unsung heroines of the bioscope, like Menoka, were subject of gossip and fantasy in the talkie era. Her untimely death was a matter of worry for the glittery world of the silver screen. And there could have been more than one reason for her untimely death - known to some and unknown to many. Was it the precariousness of stardom that made her unhappy or was she a victim of unrequited love?

By the end of 1931, the talkie had taken the Calcutta audience by storm and Tollygunj was the centre of film production, with new studios of the sound era coming up in the vicinity. Menoka had quickly picked up the ways of the studio environs of Tollygunj. She had appeared in two hits already, and had become rather a favourite of the variety papers. She worked with a well-known theatre company in Calcutta under Ambarish Dev Burma's direction, one of the top directors of Bharat Talkies. He made and unmade the fortunes of the likes of Menoka. Those with an inglorious past of beshya (prostitute) like Menoka, were easy sacrifices on the altar of a Bharat Talkies as they came out of nowhere and where they went was nobody's worry. It was her status that made others think harshly of her breed.

Menoka Has Hanged Herself is a psychological tale of exploitation and depression faced by women in the world of cinema. The book is also a reflection of the 1930s, a time when Indian cinema was male-dominated, when women couldn't find themselves in positions of leadership, leave alone their compensation, and how the industry operated through the decades, the discernment faced by the newcomers and their plight in the industry. The world of stardom then was nothing different from the one today.

In describing the world of women in cinema, Sharmishta Gooptu has captured the twists and turns of the world of moving pictures, combining several years of research in history and cinema. The author’s approach to portray the history of Calcutta cinema is quite rich and she is detailed in her narrative. The writer-historian is an authority on the Indian film industry in terms of her research work and other collection of books. So much so that her large collection of memorabilia on Indian cinema dates back to the silent era and covers the entire history of cinema.