3rd I


(Pranpancha Pash)


Saturday, November 15
Castro Theater, San Francisco
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Director: Franz Osten
Producer: Himanshu Rai
Country/Year: India/Germany/UK, 1929
Running Time: 74 mins
Format: HD
Language: Silent with music track

Introduced by Stephen Salmons, San Francisco Silent Film Festival
As silken and glittering as an Indian king’s robes, A Throw of Dice surges from the screen in a glorious print newly restored by the British Film Institute. Two kings on a hunting expedition, Ranjit (Charu Roy) and Sohat (played by the producer himself), tramp through the jungle idyll where Sunita (Seeta Devi) and her wise man father live. Killing no tigers, but injuring himself, guileless Ranjit recuperates under Sunita’s care, falls in love, and brings her back to his palace to prepare for their wedding. On the eve of his marriage, the incorrigible gambler Ranjit is tempted into a dice game with the cunning King Sohat who attempts to steal from him his love and his freedom.

Adapted from the Hindu epic The Mahabarata, this epic film boasts lavish palace settings, striking Rajasthan landscapes, and a cast of thousands--humans, horses, and elephants alike. But even more fascinating than its lush design is its production history. Produced by Indian actor, entrepreneur, and nationalist Himansu Rai, and directed by German Franz Osten, the film was financed jointly by German, English, and Indian sources; indeed, its essence balances the rich textures of Indian mythology with the perfect luminosity of German silent filmmaking techniques, overlaid with a sheen of colonialist Orientalism. Largely unseen since its release in 1929, A Throw of Dice re-premiered in London’s Trafalgar Square in 2007 accompanied by Nitin Sawhney’s stirring new score that features traditional Indian themes and vocals over European orchestration. -- Lucy Laird

For lovers of silent film:
also see Bioscope, a film about early cinema coming to the villages of Kerala in the 1920s.