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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.

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Panorama of Calcutta, India, From the River Ganges.
Panorama of Calcutta, India, From the River Ganges.
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Panorama of Calcutta, India, From the River Ganges.

Non-Fiction18992 mins

One of the earliest films to be shot in India apparently shows the Calcutta ghats - or does it?

Villenour. (French India: Territory of Pondicherry)
Villenour. (French India: Territory of Pondicherry)
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Villenour. (French India: Territory of Pondicherry)

Travelogue19144 mins

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

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

Non-Fiction193815 mins

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

An Eastern Market
An Eastern Market
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An Eastern Market

Travelogue19289 mins

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

Lahore - Refugees from India
Lahore - Refugees from India
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Lahore - Refugees from India

Amateur film19474 mins

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

Delhi, Great Capital of India
Delhi, Great Capital of India
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Delhi, Great Capital of India

Travelogue19094 mins

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

Ladakh
Ladakh
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Ladakh

Amateur film194325 mins

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

Tins for India
Tins for India
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Tins for India

Industry sponsored film19417 mins

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

Gaumont Graphic No. 383
Gaumont Graphic No. 383
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Gaumont Graphic No. 383

Non-Fiction19146 mins

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

Aka and Daffla Dances
Aka and Daffla Dances
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Aka and Daffla Dances

Amateur film193411 mins

A stunning display by Nyishi tribesmen from the hills of Arunachal Pradesh, north-eastern India

Madras Mylapore - Tank and Religious Processions
Madras Mylapore - Tank and Religious Processions
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Madras Mylapore - Tank and Religious Processions

Amateur film193210 mins

The thronging streets of Chennai in festive mood are captured by this lively amateur film

Wedding of Maharaj Kumar Shri Meghrajji Shaeb of Kutch and Maharaj Shri of Kishangarh, 1933
Wedding of Maharaj Kumar Shri Meghrajji Shaeb of Kutch and Maharaj Shri of Kishangarh, 1933
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Wedding of Maharaj Kumar Shri Meghrajji Shaeb of Kutch and Maharaj Shri of Kishangarh, 1933

Amateur film193342 mins

Fireworks, illuminations and traditional dance all feature in a stunningly opulent royal wedding at Kundla, Gujarat

Mahatma Gandhi Noa Khali March
Mahatma Gandhi Noa Khali March
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Mahatma Gandhi Noa Khali March

Amateur film194727 mins

Remarkable amateur footage of Mahatma Gandhi shot by his great nephew in 1947.

In India Today: Gandhi : Stormy Petrel of Indian Politics Pathé Gazette No. 1705
In India Today: Gandhi : Stormy Petrel of Indian Politics  Pathé Gazette No. 1705
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In India Today: Gandhi : Stormy Petrel of Indian Politics Pathé Gazette No. 1705

Non-Fiction19302 mins

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

Gandhi Scenes
Gandhi Scenes
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Gandhi Scenes

Non-Fiction19311 mins

Newsreel footage of the great Indian leader.

Gandhi in England British Screen News No. 335
Gandhi in England  British Screen News No. 335
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Gandhi in England British Screen News No. 335

Non-Fiction19312 mins

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

Asia's New Voice
Asia's New Voice
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Asia's New Voice

Documentary194917 mins

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

India
India
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India

Amateur film192914 mins

Amateur film of the passage to India - complete with guest appearance by Gandhi

Indian Durbar
Indian Durbar
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Indian Durbar

Documentary194011 mins

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.

A Village in India
A Village in India
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A Village in India

Documentary193810 mins

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

A Road in India
A Road in India
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A Road in India

Travelogue19389 mins

A portrait of 'the enigmatic and disturbing East' - elevated by Jack Cardiff's Technicolor cinematography

Temples of India
Temples of India
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Temples of India

Travelogue193810 mins

Technicolor temple tour shot by the great Jack Cardiff

Delhi
Delhi
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Delhi

Travelogue193810 mins

Beautiful Technicolor tour of Delhi shot by the great Jack Cardiff

Devil Dancers of Sikkim
Devil Dancers of Sikkim
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Devil Dancers of Sikkim

Travelogue19349 mins

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

India at War
India at War
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India at War

Documentary194219 mins

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.

Empire Troops
Empire Troops
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Empire Troops

19173 mins

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

5th Calcutta Battalion: Presentation of Colours by H.E. The Viceroy
5th Calcutta Battalion: Presentation of Colours by H.E. The Viceroy
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5th Calcutta Battalion: Presentation of Colours by H.E. The Viceroy

Non-Fiction19176 mins

The inauguration of a unit of the Indian Defence Force in Calcutta (now Kolkata)

Horse Artillery at Bihar and Orissa
Horse Artillery at Bihar and Orissa
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Horse Artillery at Bihar and Orissa

Amateur film192810 mins

Amateur film surveying colonial life in eastern India

Hillmen Go to War
Hillmen Go to War
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Hillmen Go to War

War19449 mins

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

India Strikes
India Strikes
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India Strikes

Documentary194534 mins

A celebration of India’s contribution to the British war effort.

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North India
North India
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North India

A journey across north India from the mountains of Jammu and Kashmir to the iconic architecture of Rajasthan.

West and Central India
West and Central India
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West and Central India

A journey through central and west India from Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh to Gujarat and Maharashtra.

East and North-East India
East and North-East India
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East and North-East India

A journey from Odisha to Kolkata to the Buddhist communities of West Bengal and the diverse people of the north-eastern states.

South India
South India
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South India

A journey through the temples of Tamil Nadu via Kerala to spectacular ceremonies and processions in Mysuru and Hyderabad.

Somewhere in India
Somewhere in India
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Somewhere in India

We know that these films were shot in India, but where? Can you help us to identify the locations?

Pakistan
Pakistan
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Pakistan

Across what is now Pakistan from Karachi through Balochistan to Lahore and onwards to the North West Frontier

The Lunchbox from India on Film

More India on Film in our Rentals collection