India on Film, 1899–1947: An Archive of 90 Historic Films Now Online

India, the largest democ­ra­cy in the world, is a ris­ing eco­nom­ic pow­er­house, and a major play­er in the fields of media, enter­tain­ment, and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions.

But for many arm­chair trav­el­ers, sub­con­ti­nen­tal moder­ni­ty takes a back­seat to post­card visions of ele­phants, teem­ing rus­tic streets, and snake charm­ers.

Fans of Rud­yard Kipling and E.M. Forster will thrill to the vin­tage footage in a just released British Film Insti­tute online archive, India on Film (see a trail­er above).

1914’s The Won­der­ful Fruit of the Trop­ics, a sten­cil-coloured French-pro­duced primer on the edi­ble flo­ra of India offers just the right blend of exoti­cism and reas­sur­ance (“the fruit of a man­go is excel­lent as a food”) for a new­ly arrived British house­wife.

A Native Street in India (1906) speaks to the pop­u­lous­ness that con­tin­ues to define a coun­try sched­uled to out­pace China’s num­bers with­in the next 10 years.

An East­ern Mar­ket fol­lows a Pun­jabi farmer’s trek to town, to buy and sell and take in the big city sights.

The archive’s biggest celeb is sure­ly activist Mahat­ma Gand­hi, whose great nephew, Kanu, enjoyed unlim­it­ed film­ing access on the assur­ance that he would nev­er ask his uncle to pose.

The Raj makes itself known in 1925’s King Emper­or’s Cup Race, a Han­d­ley Page biplane arriv­ing in Cal­cut­ta in 1917, and sev­er­al films doc­u­ment­ing Edward Prince of Wales’ 1922 tour

Explore the full BFI’s full India on Film: 1899–1947 playlist here. It fea­tures 90 films in total, with maybe more to come.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Par­vati Saves the World: Watch a Remix of Bol­ly­wood Films That Com­bats Rape in India

Google’s Mov­ing Ad About 1947 Par­ti­tion of India & Pak­istan Tops 10 Mil­lion Views

1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, etc. 

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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