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India on Film: 1899-1947

An extraordinary collection of films capturing India before independence.

At the stroke of midnight on 14/15 August 1947, India finally achieved independence from Britain. Seventy years on, India on Film offers access to an unparalleled collection of films from the BFI National Archive exploring lives – both Indian and British – across the subcontinent during the early 20th century.

Comprising over 200 non-fiction films, most unseen for decades, the collection takes in temples and tigers, durbars and devil dancers, girl guides and Gandhi. The films inevitably offer a partial view of life in India; with a few exceptions, they were shot by British filmmakers. But between them they serve up revealing insights and countless indelible images.

This collection of newly digitised films is part of the BFI's contribution to the UK-India Year of Culture 2017.

The collection includes films of places that were part of India pre-Partition, including what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh. Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) was ruled by Britain as a Crown Colony directly from London. Given the many links with mainland India during this period the collection includes a few films of Ceylon.

triangle triangle
India on Film: 1899-1947

RECOMMENDED

View Villenour
Villenour
Watch for free 5 mins

Villenour 1914

Gorgeously dreamlike colour images of (then) French India – present-day Puducherry

5 mins France

View Indian Elephants in the Service of Man
Indian Elephants in the Service of Man
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Indian Elephants in the Service of Man 1938

Indian elephants in action as working animals and in hunting, filmed by celebrated hunter-turned-conservationist Jim Corbett

15 mins United Kingdom

View An Eastern Market
An Eastern Market
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An Eastern Market 1928

Documentary detailing a farmer’s visit to the market in Rawalpindi

10 mins

View Lahore - Refugees from India
Lahore - Refugees from India
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Lahore - Refugees from India 1947

Millions of Muslims flee to Lahore in the newly created state of Pakistan, prompted by the partition of British India

4 mins United Kingdom

View Delhi, Great Capital of India
Delhi, Great Capital of India
Watch for free 4 mins

Delhi, Great Capital of India 1909

Rare stencil-coloured images of early 20th century Delhi during a Muslim festival

4 mins France

BROWSE THE COLLECTIONS

View Ladakh
Ladakh
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Ladakh 1941

A stunning trek from the vale of Kashmir, via Sind Valley and Kargil and Lamayaru Monastry

8 mins United Kingdom

View Tins for India
Tins for India
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Tins for India 1941

Unseen for decades, Bimal Roy's documentary finds poetry in the kerosene can

8 mins India Director. Bimal Roy

View Gaumont Graphic No. 383
Gaumont Graphic No. 383
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Gaumont Graphic No. 383 1914

Indian soldiers in Bombay in October 1914 en route to German East Africa (now Tanzania)

United Kingdom

View Aka and Daffla Dances
Aka and Daffla Dances
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Aka and Daffla Dances 1934

Dancers from the Dafla (Daphla) tribe perform spectacular tight-rope tricks, and act out a ritualised hunt with masks.

7 mins United Kingdom

View In India To-day!
In India To-day!
Watch for free 1 mins

In India To-day! 1930

Newsreel capturing the final leg of Mahatma Gandhi's epic 24-day march through Gujarat to break the colonial salt laws

1 mins United Kingdom

View Gandhi Scenes
Gandhi Scenes
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Gandhi Scenes 1931

Newsreel footage of the great Indian leader.

1 mins United Kingdom

View Gandhi in England
Gandhi in England
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Gandhi in England 1931

Mahatma Gandhi's arrival in England for the second India Round Table Conference at St James's Palace

1 mins United Kingdom

View Asia's New Voice
Asia's New Voice
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Asia's New Voice 1949

Two years after India gained its independence from British rule, was the dream starting to go sour?

20 mins USA

View A Native Street in India
A Native Street in India
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A Native Street in India 1906

Early film of a crowded street scene in an unidentified Indian city. Can you identify it?

2 mins United Kingdom

View Indian Durbar
Indian Durbar
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Indian Durbar 1940

The "rich and vivid spectacle" of the Durbar held for the Maharaja of Alwar is captured in gorgeous Technicolor by Jack Cardiff in this travelogue.

12 mins United Kingdom Director. John Hanau

View A Village in India
A Village in India
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A Village in India 1938

Technicolor scenes in rural Rajasthan, shot by the great Jack Cardiff

9 mins United Kingdom Director. John Hanau

View A Road in India
A Road in India
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A Road in India 1938

The sights of India as seen from the perspective of a dusty road, featuring stunning Technicolor cinematography by Jack Cardiff.

10 mins USA Director. Hans M. Nieter

View Temples of India
Temples of India
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Temples of India 1938

Technicolor temple tour shot by the great Jack Cardiff

11 mins United Kingdom Director. Hans M. Nieter

View Delhi
Delhi
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Delhi 1938

Technicolor tour of Delhi shot by Jack Cardiff

11 mins United Kingdom Director. Hans M. Nieter

View Devil Dancers of Sikkim
Devil Dancers of Sikkim
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Devil Dancers of Sikkim 1934

Hear the Lama band, see the sacred dances: welcome to Sikkim, in the shadow of the Himalayas.

10 mins United Kingdom

View India at War
India at War
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India at War 1942

A compelling case for the involvement of the United States in Britain’s Indian Empire is made, in this comprehensive survey of the war effort in India.

20 mins USA

View Empire Troops
Empire Troops
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Empire Troops 1917

The might of the British Empire is mobilised for war during 1914 and 1915.

4 mins United Kingdom

View India's Navy Grows
India's Navy Grows
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India's Navy Grows 1941

Hindustani-language newsreel intended to boost wartime recruitment for the Indian Navy

7 mins United Kingdom

View Hillmen Go to War
Hillmen Go to War
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Hillmen Go to War 1944

The contribution of the people of the Kullu Valley to the Second World War effort.

India

View India Strikes
India Strikes
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India Strikes 1945

A celebration India's contribution to the British War effort, as demands for independence become overwhelming

35 mins United Kingdom Director. Sen Bishu

View Ruins of Delhi
Ruins of Delhi
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Ruins of Delhi 1910

Attractive travelogue filmed in and around Delhi's Qutb complex.

3 mins France

View Rajputana Jhawalar Bundi & Katakali Dancers
Rajputana Jhawalar Bundi & Katakali Dancers
Watch for free 11 mins

Rajputana Jhawalar Bundi & Katakali Dancers 1940

A trip to the spectacular city of Bundi and a Kathakali dance performance, filmed in vivid colour by 'envoy of the Raj' Clarmont Skrine.

11 mins United Kingdom

View Delhi 1946
Delhi 1946
Watch for free 13 mins

Delhi 1946 1946

8mm amateur film of India on the eve of Independence.

13 mins United Kingdom

View New Delhi
New Delhi
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New Delhi 1928

The wonders of modern and family life as the Viceroy's private secretary

15 mins United Kingdom

View Scenes of the Delhi Camp
Scenes of the Delhi Camp
Watch for free 2 mins

Scenes of the Delhi Camp 1911

A look at the 1911 Delhi Durbar - with a look back at its 1902 predecessor

2 mins United Kingdom

View Indian Procession
Indian Procession
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Indian Procession 1902

Decorated elephants with howdahs, and troops on foot and horseback.

2 mins United Kingdom

View Temples of India
Temples of India
Watch for free 11 mins

Temples of India 1938

Technicolor temple tour shot by the great Jack Cardiff

11 mins United Kingdom Director. Hans M. Nieter

View Rajputana Jhawalar Bundi & Katakali Dancers
Rajputana Jhawalar Bundi & Katakali Dancers
Watch for free 11 mins

Rajputana Jhawalar Bundi & Katakali Dancers 1940

A trip to the spectacular city of Bundi and a Kathakali dance performance, filmed in vivid colour by 'envoy of the Raj' Clarmont Skrine.

11 mins United Kingdom

View Street Scenes in India
Street Scenes in India
Watch for free 7 mins

Street Scenes in India 1935

From the arrival of a new viceroy to street markets, this amateur film captures the diversity of life in colonial India

7 mins India

View Gwalior
Gwalior
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Gwalior 1922

The Prince of Wales and the Maharajah of Gwalior ride an elephant in a grand procession

1 mins Great Britain

View Sarnath, Benares & Santal Tribes
Sarnath, Benares & Santal Tribes
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Sarnath, Benares & Santal Tribes 1934

Film of the Santhal tribe of North East India featuring Sarnath and Benares (Varanasi) in Uttar Pradesh.

39 mins Germany

View Khalapur Carpets
Khalapur Carpets
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Khalapur Carpets 1932

Indian carpets make their way to Montreal in this promotional film

United Kingdom

View Boat Repairs - Sunderbans
Boat Repairs - Sunderbans
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Boat Repairs - Sunderbans 1935

Stunning colour footage showing colonial life in the hills of Assam and bustling activity on the lakes below

8 mins United Kingdom

View Picturesque India or, In and About Calcutta
Picturesque India  or, In and About Calcutta
Watch for free 4 mins

Picturesque India or, In and About Calcutta 1913

Botanical gardens in Bombay (now Mumbai) plus the highly decorative Jain Temple in Calcutta (now Kolkata) as they were in 1913.

4 mins USA

View Devil Dancers of Sikkim
Devil Dancers of Sikkim
Watch for free 10 mins

Devil Dancers of Sikkim 1934

Hear the Lama band, see the sacred dances: welcome to Sikkim, in the shadow of the Himalayas.

10 mins United Kingdom

View Darjeeling: A Foothill Town
Darjeeling: A Foothill Town
Watch for free 10 mins

Darjeeling: A Foothill Town 1934

Evocative travelogue exploring life at the foot of the Himalayas, including tea gardens and a Buddhist shrine

10 mins United Kingdom

View Villenour
Villenour
Watch for free 5 mins

Villenour 1914

Gorgeously dreamlike colour images of (then) French India – present-day Puducherry

5 mins France

View Dancers at Trivandrum Gopinath
Dancers at Trivandrum Gopinath
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Dancers at Trivandrum Gopinath 1946

Kathakali performance featuring the great Indian dancer Guru Gopinath, filmed in remarkable colour by ‘envoy of the Raj’ Clarmont Skrine

United Kingdom

View Madras & Ceylon
Madras & Ceylon
Watch for free 12 mins

Madras & Ceylon 1947

Rare amateur footage of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka

12 mins Great Britain

View Street Scenes in India
Street Scenes in India
Watch for free 7 mins

Street Scenes in India 1935

From the arrival of a new viceroy to street markets, this amateur film captures the diversity of life in colonial India

7 mins India

View Uti 1925
Uti 1925
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Uti 1925 1925

Snapshots of colonial life around Tamil Nadu, plus a visit to the Toda tribe

United Kingdom

View Houseboating in Waltair
Houseboating in Waltair
Watch for free 10 mins

Houseboating in Waltair 1926

The Uzielli family takes to the water in Visakhapatnam, southern India

10 mins United Kingdom

View Cochin and Malabar
Cochin and Malabar
Watch for free 17 mins

Cochin and Malabar 1930

Amateur film capturing life and buildings in and around Kochi, in Kerala, south-west India.

17 mins United Kingdom

View Sports in the Indian Army
Sports in the Indian Army
Watch for free 6 mins

Sports in the Indian Army 1910

A demonstration of sport and fitness by members of the Indian Army

6 mins France

View Honey Harvest in India
Honey Harvest in India
Watch for free 9 mins

Honey Harvest in India 1936

Death-defying antics on behalf of the sweet-toothed, in a home movie shot by hunter-turned-conservationist Jim Corbett

9 mins United Kingdom Director. Edward James Corbett

View India: Hunting with Elephants
India: Hunting with Elephants
Watch for free 7 mins

India: Hunting with Elephants 1930

On the trail of big game in this extraordinary home movie shot by famous hunter and conservationist Jim Corbett

7 mins United Kingdom

View Mother
Mother
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Mother 1947

Former silent film star Sita Devi plays a social worker teaching her Indian village neighbours about clean, modern childbirth

16 mins India Director. Paul Zils

View Dangerous Journey
Dangerous Journey
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Dangerous Journey 1944

Expeditions to parts of North and South America, India and Burma (Myanmar).

58 mins USA Director. Leila Roosevelt, Armand Denis

View Child
Child
Watch for free 18 mins

Child 1947

Advice for village families on raising children to become strong, healthy citizens

18 mins India Director. Paul Zils

View India - Personal Film 1 - C. 1940
India - Personal Film 1 - C. 1940
Watch for free 2 mins

India - Personal Film 1 - C. 1940 1940

Family life in colonial India - baby Georgina with her British mother and Chinese amah, possibly in Calcutta

2 mins United Kingdom

View Life in Hunza
Life in Hunza
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Life in Hunza 1937

Fertility rites and wine production: life in the Hunza valley in northern Pakistan.

8 mins United Kingdom

View Lahore - Badashahi Mosque
Lahore - Badashahi Mosque
Watch for free 5 mins

Lahore - Badashahi Mosque 1933

Extraordinary home movie footage of prayers in the Punjabi capital

5 mins United Kingdom

View Randolph Bezzant Holmes India Films
Randolph Bezzant Holmes India Films
Watch for free 20 mins

Randolph Bezzant Holmes India Films 1919

Military occasions around India and Pakistan, featuring the Khyber Pass, Srinagar, Rawalpindi and Peshawar

20 mins Great Britain

View Indian Life
Indian Life
Watch for free 15 mins

Indian Life 1940

A motorist's excursion captures a world made by hand in the environs of Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi

15 mins United Kingdom

View Our Garden - Jhelum
Our Garden - Jhelum
Watch for free 11 mins

Our Garden - Jhelum 1945

This amateur film captures Colonel and Mrs Lord's garden at Jhelum, as well as soldiers at Karachi.

11 mins United Kingdom

View An Eastern Market
An Eastern Market
Watch for free 10 mins

An Eastern Market 1928

Documentary detailing a farmer’s visit to the market in Rawalpindi

10 mins

View Kagan Valley
Kagan Valley
Watch for free 11 mins

Kagan Valley 1931

Amateur travelogue of the Kagan Valley and Darband, Pakistan.

11 mins United Kingdom

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