Jambo, Samji Kala! : About the life and times of Mohanlal Kala Savani

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Book jacket of Jambo, Samji Kala!, a book written by Manu Savani. Photo: courtesy Manu Savani

This is a book about the life and times of Mohanlal Kala Savani, considered a pioneer in introducing Bollywood to the world.

In doing so, he achieved his dreams of creating a new destiny for himself and his family in East Africa, according to his youngest son, Manu Savani, the author of the book.

But JAMBO, SAMJI KALA! is more than a tale of family legacy. Manu Savani has woven into it the sociopolitical history of East Africa from the year 1918 onwards. That was the year when the late Mohanlal Kala Savani landed at the port of Mombasa with a rudimentary elementary school education and empty pockets. “He was an aspiring young immigrant who worked with focus, resolve and a dauntless spirit to succeed in the world of business,” says the author.

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In the 1890s, some 32,000 workers were brought from British India to East Africa for manual labor to build a new railway line from the coastal town of Mombasa to Uganda.

Many people of Indian origin sacrificed their lives during this railway line construction; others who saw opportunity in the inland areas of Kenya, decided to stay back to pursue those ambitions. Despite it being a foreign land filled with uncertainty, Indians were attracted to migrating there to find jobs or to benefit from the opportunities for trade, and the author details one such story, that truly represents the experience of many.

Mohanlal Kala Savani, or as he was popularly called, Samji Kala, synonymous with his company’s name, brings to light the vital personality of a man who came to Africa penniless and built a reputable trading company, the brief on the book jacket says.

The author accomplishes this through a series of vividly written personal and family vignettes, enhanced by a gallery of photographs.

The growth of the Indian film business in East Africa and overseas would be incomplete without the role played by Mohanlal Kala’s story.

In 1922, he managed to import an Indian silent movie with a hand-cranked projected. There was no stopping thereon.

This is the biography “of a visionary who turned obstacles into opportunities and became a movie mogul, textile and cotton mega trader, industrialist, real estate developer and philanthropist,” says the brief on the book.

JAMBO, SAMJI KALA! is Manu’s first as an author. His only previous experience as a writer was in 1966, when as a final year student at the Brookes University at Oxford, he wrote a thesis titled “Indian Film Industry and The World Market”.

Born in Kenya, he is the youngest of six sons of Mohanlal Kala Savani. He now lives in California with his wife Varsha, three children, and six grandchildren.

Manu Savani, like his father, is also involved in the business of Indian film distribution. Since 1968 when he moved to the United States, he  began bringing Bollywood artists to perform at concerts in the U.S. and was an executive producer for the weekly talk show Cinema Cinema. He has served as a consultant on India at the American Film Market Association, and a board member of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, according to the profile provided by the author.

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