A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration in U.K. (1930- 1951)

Projects / Jan 27, 2015

May 2013 – December 2014

SACF’s Heritage Lottery Funded project ran for a year and a half (from mid-May 2013 to December 2014) and uncovered a hidden and highly significant part of Indo-British film heritage in the UK.

Commencing from the 1930s, this research project first focused on pioneering Indian film director and story and scriptwriter Niranjan Pal’s A Gentleman of Paris (1931), Naval D. Gandhi’s Shikari (1932) and Himansu Rai and Devika Rani’s ‘Karma’(1933). It then moved on to highlight the work of Sabu, the first Indian to become an international star and Anglo-Indian actress Merle Oberon who, after arriving in Britain as a nonentity, was transformed into a star under the direction of Hungarian-born British director Alexander Korda and went on to play the female lead opposite top actors such as Laurence Olivier and also made a mark in Hollywood.

The Indo-British film heritage project ended with French filmmaker Jean Renoir’s ‘The River’ (1951), an international landmark film (shot in Bengal), based on the novel and screenplay of famous English writer Rumer Godden. This gave them the opportunity to conclude with highlighting the crucial link between UK and Satyajit Ray, the India’s outstanding filmmaker who placed India on the world’s film map.

During the project, SACF staff and volunteers interviewed some older people in London and recorded the memories of those who had watched films covered by the project in their childhood or youth. During the project, some volunteers were trained in basic research and assisted to search the British Film Institute and the British Library and archives to collate data and identify important but forgotten Indo-British films of the period.

A novel area of work undertaken by SACF during the project was to forge links with some London-based Primary School pupils, to introduce them to heritage material and films and to encourage them to respond to the project through their own drawings, film reviews and stories. Similarly, SACF also identified some adult volunteers with an interest in art and inspired them to participate in the project and respond to the project’s films and other heritage findings through their original sketches and paintings.

Training Opportunities

A mixed group of about 20 adult volunteers from all age groups and ethnicities received training and support in the following areas:

  • How to conduct and record Oral History interviews of older people regarding their memories of some films of the period covered by the project. (The volunteers received formal training with help from the Oral History Society).
  • How to carry out Film History research in some key London libraries and practical experience on how to conduct research and search, identify and collate film heritage material.
  • How to archive and digitise heritage resources gathered during the project from various sources.
  • How to plan, shoot and edit SACF’s heritage documentary film: East meets West – Indo-British Cinematic Encounters

Project Actvities & Learning for Volunteers

Volunteers were offered opportunities to get involved in the following activities of the film heritage project:

  • Research to identify relevant Indo-British collaboration films of the period covered by the project. A selection of these films (e.g. Elephant Boy, Wuthering Heights, The Thief of Bagdad), was screened in various London venues in partnership with supporting / participating organisations.
  • Helping to organise an exhibition: A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British film Collaboration in UK in two centrally located London venues to highlight and share project findings with the general public.
  • Become involved in producing SACF’s new publication: A Biographical Dictionary of Indo-British Cinema to highlight the contribution of the main personalities highlighted and uncovered by the project.
  • Get involved in producing and screening SACF’s new documentary on Indo-British film Collaboration: East meets West – Indo-British Cinematic Encounters
  • Help to organise workshops in a London school for pupils to highlight the importance of heritage, share the project’s findings with them, screen some children’s films and encourage pupils to respond to SACF’s project through their art work, stories, film reviews and creative writings.

Project Partners

During the project, SACF and a group of over 50 volunteers worked in collaboration with UK’s leading film organisation, the British Film Institute (BFI) in London and received active support from BFI’s Education Curator, David Somerset.

Other significant SACF partners included: Professor Jeffrey Richards, Emeritus Professor of Cultural History, Lancaster University, Dr Charles Drazin, Senior Lecturer, Queen Mary University of London, Professor Rosie Thomas and Dr. Ranita Chatterjee, Film Studies, University of Westminster, The Indian High Commission, The Nehru Centre and Westbrook Primary School, London.

The Project’s Novel Contribution

By throwing light on some highly significant hidden but forgotten areas of film history in the UK, the project broke fresh ground and has laid the foundation for further in-depth research and exploration of this period.

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