Light of Asian: Indian Silent Cinema, 1912-1934 in its new avatar celebrates the centenary of Indian cinema and the release of Dadasaheb Phalke's Raja Harishchandra in 1913. It provides a close-up view of the nascent days of Indian filmmaking and the first steps that led to the crest where the Indian movie industry rests today.
Extensively researched and updated data, archival records, new essays by celebrated film historians and commentators, crisp reproductions of silent film stills, photos of emerging movie moghuls, journal covers, colour posters of films and quaint publicity material of the times-unearthed and restored by the National Film Archive of India-lend that unique, extra edge to this story of intellectual pursuit coupled with romantic vision. Along this journey of discovery, invention, technological wizardry and imagination, Indian silent cinema transformed myth and illusion into reality with magical ease for its viewers, involving the subtle interplay of light and shade, black and white, romance and betrayal, fact and fantasy.
This book is a tribute to the Indian silent film era cradle to the century-old exciting, pulsating and burgeoning Indian silver screen world of the 21st century.
Film historian, curator writer and teacher Suresh Chabria is on the Advisory Committee of the National Museum of Indian Cinemas and the Advisory Board of the Public Service Broadcasting Trust. Member of the National Committee for the Celebration of the Cinema Centenary in Indian and the Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Films and the Eisenstein Centenary Committee, he was Professor of Film Appreciation, FTII, Pune and is the former Director of the National Film Archive of India, Pune (1992-1998). Chabria has served on international film festival juries and curated international events to showcase Indian film heritage. His other interests are painting, photography and far eastern poetry.
This book is a revised and expanded edition of the publication that
accompanied the first complete retrospective of Indian silent films in
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, October, 1994. In the Foreword
to that edition I explained the circumstances in which it was written. In the
years that followed many scholars working on their dissertations in the
National Film Archive of India (NFAI)'s library in Pune remarked that Light
of Asia-along with Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen's Encyclopaedia
of Indian Cinema published in the same year-provided a starting point for a
new phase in the writing of the history of Indian cinema. Even as the latter
continues to be an essential reference work, Light of Asia has also remained
in constant demand. Numerous historians and researchers have thumbed
through the few available copies in various libraries, and I have often had
occasion to send photocopies to friends and colleagues in different parts
of the world. Thus the suggestion frequently came up in conversation and
correspondence that there is a need for a new edition.
This idea has finally taken shape and preparation of the expanded and
revised edition began on the eve of the centenary of India's first feature
film Raja Harishchandra released in 1913. As prime mover and curator of
the Pordenone retrospective and editor-contributor of the companion
book, it is a great pleasure for me to return to it and make it available with
added materials for a new generation of historians and researchers. And
since interest in Indian cinema is more widespread than before, one hopes
that the larger public will also find it a useful entry point to the rich and
complex legacy of Indian cinema.
In Part One, the first chapter 'Before Our Eyes: A Short History of India's
Silent Cinema' has been slightly modified in the light of recent research.
However, I have added a separate bibliographical essay to supplement the
notes appended to the chapter. This essay summarises the work done by
various authors since 1994. Acknowledging this significant body of research
and interpretation is another reason for bringing out a new edition.
A refrain among historians and aficionados of Indian cinema has always
been the scarcity of surviving silent films. Thus, in retrospect, the discovery
of reels from three 1920s mythologicals-Maya Bazar, Sati Savitri and
Muralivala-by the great Baburao Painter was perhaps the most notable
event in my tenure at the NFAI. They were found in extraordinary
circumstances which I wrote about in the Federation of International Film
Archives' This Film is Dangerous: A Celebration of Nitrate Film (FIAF, Brussels,
2002). The essay titled 'The Cobra's Hoard' is reprinted here along with
a new chapter called 'The Hoard: Three Films by Baburao Painter' which
completes the inventory of all extant Indian silent films currently available
with the NFAI. It should be read along with the partially reworked chapter
'The Indian Silent Cinema Retrospective, Pordenone, 1994' which included
only the silent films available in 1994.
Ashish Rajadhyaksha's 'India's Silent Cinema: A "Viewer's View'" in the first
edition was perhaps the first essay on the subject from the perspective of
film studies methodology. For reasons of space it is not included in this
edition, but he has written a new chapter which masterfully answers the
question 'what, since Suresh Chabria's collaboration with Paolo Cherchi
Usai, the publication of Lightof Asia and the programming of the Pordenone
festival, has happened in relation to research on the silent cinema?'
Rajadhyaksha, arguably the foremost Indian film theorist, comments on
some of the subsequent work in the field and adds his own thoughts about
the direction and areas of further research. Also, his discussion of Painter's
Muralivala, written in a characteristically thought-provoking manner,
opens the way for a novel interpretation of the mythological and other
major genres of Indian silent cinema.
Part Two again contains Virchand Dharamsey's 'Filmography of Indian
Silent Cinema' which was fundamental material for later scholarship,
and it now perhaps receives its definitive form. It has been updated with
additional information which he uncovered since 1994. The main changes
or additions are in the credit lists of the films, names of some actors and
other personalities and alternative film titles. He has also added information
and remarks about censorship problems, the literary sources of the scripts
and stories and the production history of some important films. Significant
examples are the conclusive dating of the surviving reels of Phalke's Raja
Harishchandra to 1917 and the surprising fact that Painter's Maya Bazar is
actually a re-release of Surekha Haran originally made in 1921. The recorded
beginnings of feature film production in South India can now also be safely
pulled back by almost two years: the pioneer Nataraja Mudaliar made Gopal
Krishna in 1915 (length unknown) and Keechak Vadham was in fact made
and released in 1916 and not in 1917. Everyone interested in Indian silent
cinema owes Dharamsey an immense debt of gratitude.
Finally, I recall that in the earlier Foreword I referred to India's silent cinema
as 'a lost cinematic paradise'. It will perhaps always remain so. But its vivid
traces and lasting legacy summed up in this revised edition will hopefully
provide some consolation and a solid foundation for others to build upon.
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