A collection of almost 300 films which offer a unique glimpse of life in India and other parts of South Asia during the final days of the British Empire is being released online on Thursday.
The archive, which is owned by Cambridge University’s Centre for South Asian Studies, contains approximately 50 different private collections, all made by people who lived and worked in India and other parts of Asia between 1911 and 1956, just as British rule in the region was coming to a close. Many of the films are "home movies" never before seen by the public.
According to a University announcement, the silent films cover a huge range of topics, including harrowing scenes shot during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, images of labourers working on railways and dams, and pictures of the funeral of Lord Brabourne, a former Governor of Bombay and Bengal, in 1939.
They also open a window both on to some of the lesser-studied facets of Imperial history, such as women’s experiences in colonial India; and aspects which otherwise would simply have gone unrecorded.
Alongside stereotypical images of dignitaries attending official events or spending a day at the races, viewers will be able to watch royal weddings, tribal dances, people working on farms and children playing or going to school.
The films were shot on 8mm or 16mm reel and have not been extensively available or used until now. In some cases, they had never been viewed until they were digitised.
The Centre for South Asian Studies is now seeking funding to link its film collection and its oral history archive, which contains more than 300 recorded interviews and was released online last year. It is hoped that the two will, in time, be available as a single package that can be used in schools, universities, and by anyone with an interest in film or Imperial history.