Colonialism: India 1906-1914

A Native Street in India
P: Walturdaw. UK 1906
Print: BFI

“The Walturdaw Film Company began trading in 1904, its name deriving from the surnames of its founders, J.D. Walker, E.G. Turner, and G.H. Dawson. Walker and Turner had first formed a partnership in 1896, and they were the first people in Britain to rent out films (McKernan). The Walturdaw company was itself originally formed as a film rental business, but began to produce its own films in 1905. Prior to the First World War it was considered to be one of the leading film companies in Britain.
The early twentieth century was a period in which British and Indian life in the sub-continent was at its most segregated. Judith Brown has commented that, while Britons and Indians had mingled more freely in the earlier years of colonisation, by this period the British had become ‘a separate case in an already segregated society’ (Brown, 1994, 99). She writes of a ‘spatial segregation of British homes from areas where Indians lived, both in town and countryside’ (Brown, 1994, 98).”*
*Brown, Judith M., Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy, 2nd edn (Oxford: OUP, 1994)

“A camera placed in a single, static position records people walking towards it. The street and town are unnamed and unidentified, almost without any obvious distinguishing features. People walking along the street are probably encountering a film camera for the first time. They stare into the lens and right back at us 109 years later. It’s a moving and hypnotic experience, connecting us to people who died many decades ago. It’s more potent than any photograph, like an Indian equivalent of one of Mitchell and Kenyon’s Edwardian films of workers leaving the factory for the day.”
Robin Baker: Exploring India on Film, 1899-1947

Delhi grande ville de l’Inde Supérieure (Delhi, Great Capital of India)
P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1909
Print: BFI

“‘Delhi at the time of a great Muslim religious festival’ is the helpful – to a point – context to this film offered by Pathé’s catalogue of the time. Which festival, we’re not told. Certainly the streets throng with people and floats, while a number of street performers are on hand to entertain (and presumably profit from) the faithful. From there, the camera moves on to the magnificent Jama Masjid mosque, where worshippers wash themselves in the courtyard’s waters before assembling for prayers.
This was one of a great number of films made in exotic locations by the Pathé Frères company to showcase its often breathtakingly beautiful stencil-colour processing. Though the images here are mostly well-preserved, time hasn’t been altogether kind to the colours of the BFI National Archive’s copy, which aren’t as radiant as they would once have been.”

Le Vieux Delhi et ses ruines (Ruins of Delhi)
P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1910
Print: BFI

“This attractive travelogue, by turns picturesque and statuesque, is centred on the imposing ruined structures of the Qutb complex at Mehrauli in south-west Delhi. The filmmakers also film scenes of the community life surrounding the complex – images with a distinctly pastoral flavour.”

Villenour (French India: Territory of Pondicherry)
No credits. Fr 1914
Print: BFI

“The arrival of a well-to-do European family, dutifully attended to by the locals, gives a semblance of narrative to what is largely a purely picturesque escapist experience – transporting Western viewers to an out-of-time ‘exotic’ netherworld. This was a French production but like many of the travel films so popular in early cinema it travelled widely itself – hence this version with English language titles.”

“Though it has English intertitles, it’s a French film: the stencil-coloured images—of palm trees and hand-pushed rickshaws carrying white sahibs—use a process called Cinemacoloris, developed by Segundo de Chomón, a Spanish film innovator who had worked with Pathé Frères in Paris. The last frame is a curious one: a static shot of the white family being fêted and, in front of them and closest to the camera, a “nautch girl” who has just put on a performance. If this placement was intended as a parting salvo of exoticism, it is defeated by a small miracle. The dancer, arms akimbo, her sari tinted red, stares directly at the camera. After a few seconds, she looks away, but seems to sense that the camera is still on her, and looks back again. Her wary, fascinated gaze seems to take in not only the camera and its operator, but to somehow look across space and time—to regard us, more than a century later, regarding her.”
Past made present: ‘India On Film: 1899-1947’

>>>  more films about Colonial India on this site: Panorama of Calcutta, Repas d’Indiens