SACF South Asian Cinema in UK

Selective Inclusion: African & Asian Celebrities in London’s Vanity Fair magazine 1868-1914

With support from UK’s prestigious Heritage Lottery Fund, South Asian Cinema Foundation on 9 December 2019 started another exciting community heritage project entitled: “Selective Inclusion: African and Asian Celebrities in London’s Vanity Fair magazine 1868-1914”.

What’s it all about?

This Heritage Lottery funded project aims to unravel and highlight African and Asian celebrities featured in London’s prestigious Vanity Fair magazine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries during the heyday of the British Empire.

In all, 28 important celebrities from Africa and different parts of Asia who were featured in Vanity Fair between 1868-1914 will be included in the Project.

What will we do?

- The Project will locate all the caricatures and texts on celebrities from parts of Africa, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, China and Korea featured in London's 'Vanity Fair' magazine during the period covered by the Project.
This will reveal fascinating bits of our shared Anglo-African, Anglo-South Asian, Anglo-South East Asian, Anglo-Chinese and Anglo-Japanese heritage in Britain.
It will also highlight prevailing British social attitudes and the nature of public interest in the ‘Other’, i.e., in people from other parts of the world. 

- The Project will collate background information from various other sources to find out why they visited/ settled in Britain, where they lived, how they interacted with British people and also highlight their importance and contribution.

- It will search and locate artifacts, books, films, historic buildings and monuments built / associated with the personalities included in the Project.

 - Where possible, the Project will record oral history interviews of descendants of or experts on the celebrities included in the project.

How will SACF share Project findings with the public?

To share Project findings, SACF will:
- Organise free public exhibitions of heritage material /facts gathered by the Project
- Organise Power Point presentations/talks on key personalities in the Project
- Record and share Oral History interviews with identifiable descendants/experts
- Produce a film on key Project personalities
- Produce an e-book and print limited copies of an illustrated booklet on the 28 celebrities included in the Project.   

Who will SACF work with?

- We will fulfil the Project’s aims by involving and empowering 15 community volunteers. These volunteers will benefit from the project by receiving Training in various areas related to the Project and its outcomes.






Photos from 13th Dada Saheb Phalke Memorial Lecture

Photos from 13th Dada Saheb Phalke Memorial Lecture

13th Dada Saheb Phalke Memorial Lecture held on 30th September 2016 by Farrukh Dhondy at The Nehru Centre, 8 South Audley Street, London was a success.

The topic was Screenplays in Popular Indian (Hindi) Cinema. Farrukh elaborated on his thesis on Indian cinema being in its dramatic origins, traditions, and myths, though not in its technology, unique and distinct from the developments in Western film-making. His thesis traces the history of Indian cinema from the nationalist impulses of Dadasaheb Phalke through a Gandhian reform commitment to the films of the immediate post-independence era and then to the developments of modern myths and the Indian film’s devious and crowd-pleasing or conscience-pleasing confrontations with reality.

Here are some photos from the lecture -

13th Phalke Group Farrukh Dhondhy Rosy and Farrukh SACF Farrukh

13th Dada Saheb Phalke Memorial Lecture 2016

13th Dada Saheb Phalke Memorial Lecture 2016

‘Screenplays in Popular Indian (Hindi) Cinema by Farrukh Dhondy’

By Farrukh Dhondy

Friday, 30th September 2016 at 6:30 PM
at The Nehru Centre, 8 South Audley Street, London W1K 1HF

Farrukh DhondyPopular Indian (Hindi) Cinema has developed a unique form of storytelling from the very beginning. Cinema came to India from the west but it developed its own narrative rooted in its own theatrical forms like Ramleela, Nautanki, Jatra and Parsi Theatre.

SACF’s 13th Dada Saheb Phalke Memorial Lecture will explore the roots of screenplay writing in Indian Cinema.   The lecture will be delivered by well- known screen writer, playwright and the former Channel Four Commissioning Editor (1984–97), Farrukh Dhondy.  He has written the screenplay for Mangal Pandey, starring Aamir Khan.

SACF’s Annual Phalke Memorial Lecture was instituted in the year 2002 with the inaugural lecture by the late P.K.Nair, India’s pioneering film archivist. Subsequently, SACF’s Phalke lectures have been delivered by India’s well known filmmakers like Shyam Benegal, Saeed Akhtar Mirza, Chandraprakash Dwivedi and the documentary filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur.

Farrukh will elaborate on his thesis on Indian cinema being in its dramatic origins, traditions, and myths, though not in its technology, unique and distinct from the developments in Western film-making. His thesis traces the history of Indian cinema from the nationalist impulses of Dadasaheb Phalke through a Gandhian reform commitment to the  films of the immediate post-independence era and then to the developments of modern myths and the Indian film’s devious and crowd-pleasing or conscience-pleasing confrontations with reality.

Achut Kanya Awara Do Bigha Zamin Mangal Pandey

12th Dada Saheb Phalke Memorial Lecture 2015

12th Dada Saheb Phalke Memorial Lecture 2015

Lalit Mohan JoshiNow re-scheduled, SACF's 12th Phalke Memorial Lecture along with a Musical Farewell to Sangeeta Bahadur will be held at 6.30pm on Thursday 30th July at The Nehru Centre, 8 South Audley Street, London W1.

As announced earlier, the speaker, Ashvin Immanuel Devasundaram will give an illustrated talk titled: ‘Multiplicity in Motion: The Rise of India’s New Independent Cinema’.

The event will be chaired by Rosie Thomas, Director of the Centre for Research and Education in Arts & Media, University of Westminster. Well-known screenwriter, Farrukh Dhondy will be Chief Guest. 

After his talk, Ashvin will take questions from the audience. This will be followed by a Musical Farewell to Sangeeta Bahadur who is scheduled to leave London after an eventful innings as Director of the Nehru Centre. A wine reception and refreshments will follow.

- Lalit Mohan Joshi

‘Multiplicity in Motion: The Rise of India’s New Independent Cinema’

By Ashvin Immanuel Devasundaram

Thursday, 30th July 2015 at 6:30 PM
at The Nehru Centre, 8 South Audley Street, London W1K 1HF

Ashwin DevasundaramSACF’s 12th Phalke Memorial Lecture: ‘Multiplicity in Motion:The Rise of India’s New Independent Cinema’ deals with the rise of a new kind of Indian films. The emergence of a new wave of independent Indian films since 2010 is revolutionising Indian cinema. Contemporary scholarship on Indian cinema thus far has focused asymmetrically on Bollywood - India’s dominant cultural signifier. With multiple stories spanning the diverse demographic and geopolitical spectrum of everyday human experience, this lecture, by Ashvin Immanuel Devasundaram explores ‘the new Indian Indies as a glocal hybrid film form - global in aesthetic and local in content.’ Ashwin argues that the new Indies have emerged from a middle space between India’s globalising present and traditional past.  The new Indies’ paradoxical ethos is epitomised in their circumvention of Bollywood ‘song and dance’ sequences on the one hand and their incorporation of exoteric promotion and marketing strategies on the other, unlike their esoteric 1970s and 1980s Parallel art-house cinema predecessors such as Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani.  In the absence of an autonomous Indie distribution infrastructure, new independent films often have to rely on big corporate production houses or Bollywood producers and stars to enhance their visibility and saleability.  However, the Indies share a common trait with their Parallel cinema forebears – they narrate both alternative narratives and narratives of alterity.  Films such as Peepli Live (2010), Harud (2010), I Am (2010), Fandry (2013) The Lunchbox (2013) and Ship of Theseus (2013) all espouse themes and issues that discursively engage with the contemporary ‘state of the nation’.  Some subversive Indies, such as Bengali film Gandu (2010) transgress normative notions of ‘traditional Indian values’ and hence encounter state censorship and regulation.  Drawing from in-depth interviews with directors, actors, academics and members of the Indian Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) across Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai, the lecture will try to contextualise the newIndies’ emergence in a Bollywood-dominated Indian cultural milieu.

Dr. Ashvin Immanuel Devasundaram has a PhD in Languages and Intercultural Studies from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.  His thesis was on the socio-ideological impact of new independent Indian cinema.  He also has an M.A in Mass Communications from the University of Bedfordshire.  Ashvin has wide research interests in the arts, culture, philosophy and politics.  Ashvin is currently working on a book that promises to be the first dedicated and comprehensive analysis of new Indian Independent Cinema.

SACF’s Annual Phalke Memorial Lectures have been delivered in the recent past by India’s well known Indian filmmakers like Shyam Benegal and Saeed Akhtar Mirza, film archivist P.K. Nair and the documentary filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur.

Chair - Professor Rosie Thomas, Director of CREAM: Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media, University of Westminster.


For more details about the event, click here.

Still from Haider Still from Lunch Box Poster of Peepli Live

Sabu, Elephant trainer at Tom Arnold's Circus, Harringay in London

Sabu in Harringay Circus in the 1950s

In the early 1950s, Sabu was the elephant trainer in Tom Arnold’s Harringay Circus. Having retained his youthful looks, he is reported to have appeared in oriental clothes and a turban in the show.

He was the same Sabu who had become Britain’s first and only child star of Indian origin in the 1930s and won international repute. Sabu had been found by Alexander Korda’s team members, Osmond Borradaile and Robert Flaherty. At that time, he was attached to the elephant stables of the Maharaja of Mysore. Impressed by Sabu’s natural flair for acting and his ease in handling elephants, he was made the hero of Korda’s film, The Elephant Boy (1937). Young Sabu who had then been a very young lad, was later shipped, along with his brother, to London for completing the film in London. He next went on to star in Korda’s empire film, The Drum and his oriental Arabian Nights extravaganza The Thief of Bagdad (1940).

Sabu became an American citizen in 1944 and during World War II, joined the US Airforce and took part in the War for which he was decorated with honours.

It is said that he was offered the lead role in a film by Mehboob Khan, but was unable to accept the part due to some practical problems. It was after 1945, that finding his acting career limiting, he had gone back to elephants, worked in Tom Arnold’s circus in the early 1950s and toured all over Europe.

For a film on the Harringay Circus, please click this link:

Tom Arnold's Harringay Circus with Sabu (1951) The Harringay Circus (1951) Sabu with his Elephant in The Harringay Circus Sabu poses with his Elephant at The Harringay Circus (circa 1955) Sabu on Elephant (1951) Sabu in the Airforce Sabu as Prince Safeyd in 'The Drum' Poster of 'The Thief of Bagdad' Poster of 'The Jungle Book' with Sabu Harringay Circus Poster (1952-1953)


The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)


Scene from Balidaan/ Sacrifice

Colonel Naval D. Gandhi


Indian film director who made both feature and documentary films. Born in Karachi, Sindh (now in Pakistan), Naval hailed from a Parsi family. After graduating from Ahmedabad in 1919, he embarked on a European study tour. While working for Orient Pictures in India, he won fame when he directed a critically acclaimed film titled Balidan (or Sacrifice, 1927). Based on Rabindranath Tagore’s play “Bisarjan”, it was made to show audiences in the west that Indian cinema could measure up to international standards. Recognising its merit, the Indian Cinematograph Committee, described Gandhi’s Balidan as “An excellent and truly Indian film”. Another film directed by Naval Gandhi was Shikari (1932).

During World War II, Naval Gandhi was a Colonel in the Indian Army. This enabled him to work in Bombay’s Army Film Centre that had grown from a small film unit set up by the department of military training in 1941, into a far larger organisation with a wider film-making remit. He later left the army and returned to film-making. Because of his Karachi connections, he produced a documentary that had the unedited version of the speech delivered by Mohammad Ali Jinnah on 14 August 1947, Pakistan’s independence day. Titled The Birth of Pakistan (1947), it was written and directed by Yavar Abbas who was then a young Indian army officer and combat cameraman trained in filmmaking in the British Indian Army's Public Relations Film Unit established around 1941 in Tollygunge, Calcutta.

The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)


June Duprez in The Thief of Bagdad

June Duprez

14th May 1918 – 30th October 1984

English actress. She was born in London in the middle of World War I. Aided by her exotic and delicate looks, her acting career started in her teens in British films like The Cardinal (1936), Crimson Circle (1936) and The Spy in Black (1939). She was first noticed in Zoltan Korda’s The Four Feathers (1939), a technicolor screen adaptation of a novel by A. E. W. Mason. The same year, she went on to play a role in Alexander Korda’s production of the pro-British film The Lion has Wings (1939). Then came Korda’s colourful Arabian Nights adventure fantasy for which she is best remembered, The Thief of Bagdad (1940). Here, her role as the lovely Arabian Princess of Basra with Sabu as Abu, the lovable thief of Bagdad, Rex Ingram, the talented Black actor who played the incredible genie, Conrad Veidt as the evil Jaffar and John Justin as the young Prince Ahmad under the direction of Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger and Tim Whelan, turned her into a star.

Sabu with June Duprez and John Justin in the Thief of Bagdad

The outbreak of World War II, forced the production team of The Thief of Bagdad to move from London to America and consequently she found herself in Hollywood. Riding on the crest of a wave created by her remarkable success in The Thief of Bagdad, her career could have taken off. However, this never happened. After a gap, she managed to get “good roles” in two American films: None but the lonely heart (1944) where she acted with Cary Grant and And then there were none (1945), a film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s crime thriller of the same name. She, however, failed to carve a real niche for herself in Hollywood films and could never reach anywhere near the heights she had gained in The Thief of Bagdad. June believed her career was blocked by Merle Oberon because they looked very similar.

Towards the end of her life, she lived for a while in Rome and then returned to London where she died after an illness. She has no grave for she is reported to have been cremated.

The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)


Conrad Veidt

Hans Walter Conrad Veidt

Conrad Veidt in The Thief of Bagdad22nd January 1893 – 3rd April 1943

German-born British actor. Born in Berlin, Veidt became an established actor in German silent films in the 1920s. He left Germany with his Jewish wife in 1933 and settled in the UK. After becoming a naturalised British citizen, Veidt contributed towards Britain’s war effort. Before migrating to America in the midst of World War II, his excellence in playing sinister and villainous roles such as a spy, Nazi agent or an evil man won him wide acclaim. One of his most memorable roles was that of the evil minister Jaffar alongside Sabu who played the lovable thief and June Duprez who acted as the beautiful “Arabian Nights” princess in Alexander Korda’s The Thief of Bagdad (1940). His last film was Above Suspicion (1943). He died aged 50 in Los Angeles. After being kept for many years in America, his ashes were brought to the UK and buried at London’s Golders Green Crematorium in 1997.

The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)


The Thief of Bagdad Memorabilia

The Thief of Bagdad Memorabilia

The Thief of Bagdad Memorabilia The Thief of Bagdad Memorabilia The Thief of Bagdad Memorabilia

In the 1940s, Rice-Weiner, a premium costume jewellery company set up in 1938, produced some pieces of unique jewellery inspired by Alexander Korda’s The Thief of Bagdad.They were marked: Thief of Bagdad Korda© and Alexander Korda© and are still available.

The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)


The Thief of Bagdad

The Thief of Bagdad (1940)

A classic fantasy film inspired by The Arabian Nights. Its producer was UK’s pioneering British Hungarian film-maker, Alexander Korda. It is a spectacular film with amazing special effects that have continued to inspire film-makers to this day. Though begun in the UK, its completion had to be shifted to Hollywood due to the outbreak of World War II. It directors were Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, Tim Whelan, Ludwig Berger, the Korda brothers and William C Menzies. It starred Sabu who stands out in the film as the quick-witted boy thief (Abu). It tells the story of how he befriends and helps Prince Ahmad (played by John Justin) against his evil minister (Jaffar played by Conrad Veidt) and also helps him win his lady love (The Arabian Princess, played by June Duprez).


A scene of The Thief of Bagdad Special effects in 'The Thief of Bagdad' Sabu with June Duprez and John Justin Poster June Duprez John Justin as the Prince and Conrad Veidt as Jaffar Conrad Veidt as Jaffar

The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)


Adrian Brunel

Adrian Brunel

Adrian Brunel4th September 1892 – 18th February 1958

British film director, scenario writer and author of several guide books on film-making. He was born in Brighton and educated in Harrow. He went into directing films after he formed a film company in 1916. During World War I, he served in the Film Department of the Ministry of Defence but started working as a scenario editor after the War ended in 1918. In the 1920s, he worked with Leslie Howard and A. A. Milne, creator of the famous Winnie the Pooh stories. His effective burlesquing in short comedies was his original contribution to the British cinema of his times. Some of his films such as Blighty (1927) and The Constant Nymph (1928) won him considerable fame.

Despite the negative effects of the arrival of sound, he managed to survive by writing guide books for aspiring film-makers. He was active in the Film Society Movement and also set up the Brunel and Montagu Company that regularly prepared imported films for British distribution. He also ventured into working as a scenario writer for an Indo-British talking film, Shikari (Hunter, 1932).

In 1949, he wrote his autobiography, Nice Work (1939). He died aged 76 in Gerrard’s Cross Hospital, Buckinghamshire. His work has not been assessed fully since few of his films have survived.

The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)


Iftekhar Rasool

Sheikh Iftekhar Rasool

Iftekhar Rasool with partner in London oriental show with snake1904 –?

Indian film actor and director who did uncredited roles in films in the UK, France and USA. Born in Multan, (now in Pakistan) he left for London in 1923 aged 19 with the intention of studying law. He, however, drifted onto the stage, did oriental shows and danced in cabarets in London, Vienna and other European cities and also got small oriental parts in silent films like The Garden of Allah (1927). Next, he played the “lead” in the English film, Scheherezade and was called the ‘Rudolph Valentino of the East’.

In the early 1930s, he set up Elephanta Film Corporation Limited and Sphinx Films to produce a film inspired by Thomas Moore’s poem on a Mughal princess titled Lallah Rookh. It was started in England. However, little information about this film, his contribution as a filmmaker or his later career seems to have surfaced so far.

The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)


Prof. B.R. Deodhar

Professor B.R. Deodhar

Prof. B.R. Deodhar11th September 1901 – 10th March 1990

Indian musicologist, classical musician, music director, teacher of music, specialist in voice culture and writer. Born at Miraj, Maharashtra in western India, Deodhar who was generally referred to as “Professor Deodhar”, received formal training from several highly renowned teachers and exponents of Indian classical music including Vishnu Digambar Paluskar and Ustad Karim Khan. He also pursued higher education and graduated from Bombay University in History and Economics. In 1921 he was pulled into Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement against the British Raj. Around this time, he met an Italian musician who introduced him to western music and trained him in playing the piano. With guidance from his western music teacher, he passed examinations of London’s Trinity College of Music in the theory of Western music.

His knowledge and training in Indian and western music, enabled Professor Deodhar to compose music for the theatre. He also shaped film music from the time it had begun in Indian films. He is, therefore, regarded by some scholars to be the first composer of Hindi film music and to have experimented with the novelty of using instrumental ensemble music or vadya vrind in Indian films. He worked as music director in about ten films.

One of his early talking films was an Indio-British film, Shikari (1932). Shot in India by Indian technicians and an Indian cast under the direction of Naval D. Gandhi, its scenario writers were two Englishmen, C. Lestock Reid and Adrian Brunel. It was edited in London by Thorold Dickinson and Sidney Henry Cole. The School of Indian Music that Professor Deodhar set up in Bombay in 1925 is still a well-known centre of music and culture. One of his most outstanding pupils was the celebrated Indian classical musician, Kumar Gandharva. Deodhar was awarded a Padmashree for his contribution to music by the Government of India in 1976. He died aged 89 in Bombay.

The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)


Thorold Dickinson edited Shikari and Karma

Thorold Barron Dickinson

Thorold Dickinson edited Shikari and Karma16th November 1903 –14th April 1984

British film editor, director, producer, screenwriter, idealist and the UK’s first university Professor of Film. Thorold was born in Bristol where his father was the Archdeacon. After attending Clifton College in Bristol and studying history and French in Keble College, Oxford, Dickinson graduated from Oxford University.

He learned filmmaking and in 1927 was an assistant in the Welch-Pearson Company at Cricklewood’s Stoll Studios. Around 1929 he visited the USA to study American film and sound techniques in New York. Armed with his label of ‘US returned’, he joined Elstree’s British and Dominion Studios where he mastered film editing. Later, he returned as editor to the Stoll Studios where film director Sinclair Hill was in charge of film production.

In the early 1930s, Dickinson edited at least two Indian films. One was ablack and white film, Shikari (1932) and Karma (1933), directed by J. L. Freer Hunt, starring Himansu Rai and Devika Rani with music by Roy Douglas. His directorial debut came with a feature film, High Command. He directed about a dozen other films including Gaslight (1940), The Prime Minister (1941), The Next of Kin (1942), The Queen of Spades (1949) and Secret People (1952). He also made many documentaries. In the early 1940s, he organised the Army Kinematograph Service Production Group and produced 17 films pertaining to military training. From 1956 – 1960 as chief of film services in New York, he was film producer/ supervisor for the United Nations.

Dickinson went on a tour of India in 1946 and spent a few months touring various parts of the country during a highly troubled period of the concluding phase of the British Raj. After the end of his tour, he wrote a Reportsummarisinghis observations on the vast possibilities of western film companies making films on India for a world audience.

Dickinson was closely involved with the Film Society Movement in UK. He was, moreover, an intellectual who not only believed in a cinema of ideas but also wanted to develop film culture in the general public, including primary school pupils. His opportunity to bring some of his ideas to fruition came in 1956 when he was made a Senior Lecturerat the Slade School of Fine Art, University College, London and was assigned the pioneering task of setting up the first ever unit for the study of cinema anddeveloping a course of film studies in a British University.In 1967 he became the first Professor of Film in Britain. He also managed to write books such as Soviet Cinema (1948), A Discovery of Cinema (1971) and sundry articles on film and the film industry.

Dickinson was showered with positions of eminence, honours and awards for his dedication to promoting film culture and education. Yet, towards the time of his death at Oxford in April 1984, he seemed to have been forgotten. It was to counter this trend, that Jeffrey Richards was inspired to write a book Thorold Dickinson and the British Cinema (1986), which, by highlighting the contribution of Dickinson, should help Dickinson win his rightful place in the annals of British and world cinema.

The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)


Sydney Henry Cole

Sydney Henry Cole

Sydney Henry Cole31th October 1908 – 25th January 1998

British film and television producer and editor. Born in London, Cole entered films at Stoll Picture Productions. His work as a film editor started in the 1930s. In 1932, he and Thorold Dickinson co-edited Naval D. Gandhi’sShikari, a Hindustani film shot in India with Indian actors based on an Indian story and produced by Eastern Films Limited, Bombay. He later collaborated with Dickinson in films made on the Spanish Civil War and also edited Dickinson’s famous film, Gaslight(1940). He died in London at the age of 90.

The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)


Satyajit Ray

Satyajit Ray

2nd May 1921 – 23rd April 1992

Filmmaker, music composer, artist and writer. He was born and brought up in an artistic family environment in Bengal, studied at Santiniketan where he came in touch with Rabindranath Tagore, and was introduced to the best of Eastern and Western influences such as India’s rich cultural traditions, culture, literature and music as well as English literature and western music.

He started out in the early 1940s as a ‘junior visualiser’ in D. J. Keymer, a British owned advertising agency in north Calcutta where he worked for about a decade. While employed in this agency, he was sent on a short assignment to London in 1950. Before taking this up, he contacted French film-maker Jean Renoir after he chanced to read his newspaper advertisement for Anglo-Indian actors for his forthcoming film on India, The River (1951). He contacted Renoir, met him from time to time and assisted him by helping him select appropriate locations for shooting his film. He observed him and also discussed a film idea he was passionate about which he later developed into his historic film, Pather Panchali (Song of the Road, 1955). Because of his understanding of India and its people, he is also said to have made some useful suggestions regarding The River that Renoir acted upon. Despite this, it is reported that after seeing the film with Renoir long after its completion in 1967, Ray “did not care for it [The River] very much, with the exception of the background – the life of the river …”

Ray turned to making feature films after returning home from London. Though he was a self-taught film-maker, he had meticulously studied world cinema during his Calcutta Film Society days and later during his 3-month stay in UK, admitted watching nearly a hundred films at the rate of one film per day of his London sojourn.

His first feature film, Pather Panchali won the Special Jury Prize for “Best Human Document” at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1956 and bagged over a dozen other international awards. This film together with two other Ray films –Aparajito (The Unvanquished, 1956) and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu, 1959), jointly constitute his first trilogy. His films were steeped in humanism and this quality, coupled with their excellence, helped him place India firmly on the international film map.

He was awarded India’s highest film and civilian honours –the Dada Saheb Phalke Award in 1985 and the Bharat Ratna in 1992. In 1987, the French President admitted him to the French Legion of Honour and shortly before his death, a delegation from the Oscar Committee visited him in Calcutta and presented him with a Golden statuette.


  1. Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road), 1955
  2. Aparajito(The Unvanquished), 1956
  3. Parash Pathar (The Philosopher’s Stone), 1958
  4. Jalsaghar (The Music Room), 1958
  5. Apur Sansar(The World of Apu), 1959
  6. Devi(The Goddess), 1960
  7. Teen Kanya (Three Daughters – Postmaster; Monihara; Samapti), 1961
  8. Rabindranath Tagore, (Documentary),1961
  9. Kanchenjungha(1962)
  10. Abhijan (The Expedition), 1962
  11. Mahanagar(The Big City), 1963
  12. Charulata(The Lonely Wife), 1964
  13. Two, [Short] (1964)
  14. Kapurush – O – Mahapurush (The Coward and the Holy Man), 1965
  15. Nayak(The Hero), 1966
  16. Chiriyakhana(The Zoo) 1976
  17. Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (Adventures of Goopy and Bagha), 1968
  18. Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest), 1969
  19. Pratidwandi (The Adversary), 1970
  20. Seemabaddha (Company Limited), 1971
  21. Sikkim, [Documentary] (1971)
  22. The Inner Eye, [Documentary] (1972)
  23. Asani Sanket (Distant Thunder), 1973
  24. Sonar Kella (The Fortress), 1974
  25. Jana Aranya (The Middleman),1975
  26. Bala, [Documentary] (1976)
  27. Shatranj Ke Khilari(The Chess Players), 1977
  28. Joi Baba Felunath (The Elephant God), 1978
  29. Hirak Rajar Deshe (Kingdom of Diamonds), 1980
  30. Pikoo (Pikoo’s Day), [Short] (1980)
  31. Sadgati(Deliverance), 1981
  32. Ghare-Baire (Home and the World), 1984
  33. Sukumar Ray, [Documentary] (1987)
  34. Ganashatru (Enemy of the People), 1989
  35. Shakha Prashakha(Branches of the Tree), 1990
  36. Agantuk (The Stranger), 1991

The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)


Rumer Godden

Margaret Rumer Godden

Rumer Godden10th December 1907 – 8th November 1998

British novelist and writer. Born in Eastbourne, Sussex, she started writing from the age of five. As her father worked for the Brahmaputra Steam Navigation Company, a large part of her infancy and childhood were spent in the small town of Narayanganj, East Bengal in undivided India, (now in Bangladesh). Though her parents sent her back to England, she grew to love India and returned to it later in life.

During World War II, she moved to Kashmir with her young daughters from her first marriage and has left behind fascinating descriptions of the idyllic beauty of Kashmir. Her novel, Black Narcissus (1939) set in the Himalayas, was a “runaway success” and was chosen for adaptation into a film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Though it brought her a hefty income which came in handy to clear the heavy debts left by her first husband, she disliked the film. She returned to Britain after the war and towards the end of 1949 married James Haynes Dixon, a civil servant who was extremely devoted to her and her work.

In all, nine of Rumer’s books were converted into feature films. Among these were Take Three Tenses: A Fugue in Time (1945) that became the film Enchantment (1948), produced by the Samuel Goldwyn Company for RKO starring David Niven and Teresa Wright and The Greengage Summer (1958) whose screen adaptation bearing the same name was released in 1961. But, the film adaptation she liked best was Jean Renoir’s The River (1951) based on the autobiographical novel of her childhood in India that she had written in 1946. Though produced by an American florist, the film was according to Rumer, “largely Indian financed” and 75% of the cast had, therefore, also to be made up of Indians.

Rumer’s vivid recollections of the making of The River can be read in her autobiography A House with Four Rooms, (1989). She enjoyed the experience and has described the time she spent over it with Renoir, as “the greatest two years of my life". She kept writing all her life and produced about 24 published works. Besides Black Narcissus andThe River, her other novels reflective of the enduring influence of India were Breakfast with the Nikolides (1942) and Kingfishers Catch Fire (1953). Her last novel was Cromartie v The God Shiva (1997). She also wrote stories for children and was awarded the Whitbread Award for children’s literature in 1972.

Despite admitting at some point of time to having felt drawn towards Hinduism, she finally converted to Catholicism quite late in life. She was made an OBE in 1993 and died in the picturesque setting of Dumfries in Scotland.

The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)


Merle Oberon

Merle Oberon

Merle Oberon19th February 1911 – 23rd November 1979

Baptised Estelle Merle O'Brien Thompson, she was born in Mumbai to Arthur Thompson O'Brien, a railway engineer of Irish origin and Charlotte, a Eurasian who moved from Sri Lanka to Mumbai in the first decade of the 20th century. According to some, Charlotte was not Merle’s mother, but her grandmother. Charlotte raised Merle first in Mumbai and then in Calcutta. After leaving formal education at a young age, Merle mastered ballet and other forms of western dancing and also acted in plays in Calcutta. She also frequented fashionable joints like Firpos where she met well-connected people, including foreign film stars. Fired by the ambition to become a film actress in the west, she and Charlotte left for London in 1928.

After an initial struggle In London where she got played uncredited 'bits' in British films from the late 1920s, Merle was finally discovered by Hungarian-British film producer and director Alexander Korda whom she married in 1941. Her first significant film break was in Korda’s The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933). Korda also projected Merle in The Private Life of Don Juan (1934) and The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934). She later starred opposite big stars in successful films like The Divorce of Lady X (1938) and Over the Moon (1939).

Merle finally left Britain and settled in America where she acted in over 50 films and worked under many prestigious directors. She also starred with some of the most famous male stars of her times such as Charles Laughton, Douglas Fairbanks Senior, Leslie Howard, Laurence Olivier, David Niven, George Sanders, Marlon Brando and Fredric March. She received her only Academy Award for Best Actress nomination for The Dark Angel (1935). However, her most critically acclaimed performance was opposite Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights (1939), a film adaptation by William Wyler of Emily Bronte's novel of the same name.

Merle had a complex relationship with her dual heritage. Convinced that her mixed Anglo-Indian origin would make her an object of disdain or derision and ruin her film career, she claimed to be a ‘Tasmanian’. She went to the extent of hiding her real relationship with Charlotte and introduced her to those she happened to meet, as her maid. Though not completely unknown to those within the film industry, her Indian roots remained hidden from the general public throughout her life and were revealed only in the early 1980s. Thereafter, she has been the subject of considerable interest, research and films. She married four times but had no children of her own. She adopted two children on whom she lavished great care and love. She died of a stroke in November 1979.

Merle in 'The Divorce of Lady X' Merle Oberon and Leslie Howard in 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' Merle Oberon as Anne Boleyn in 'The Private Life of Henry VIII Merle Oberon with Alexendar Korda Merle Oberon with Leslie Howard in 'The Scarlet Pimpernel'


The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)


Jean Renoir

Jean Renoir

Jean Renoir15th September 1894 – 12th February 1979

French filmmaker and writer. Son of French impressionist painter Auguste Renoir, he worked as a ceramist, a magazine writer and journalist, before turning to filmmaking in 1924 after he was injured during World War I. Among his early works that won critical acclaim were: La Chien (1931), Night at the Crossroads (1932) and The Human Beast (1939). In 1941, during the Nazi occupation of France, he moved to the USA and worked in Hollywood.

In the late 1940s, he decided to make a film on Rumer Godden’s book on Bengal titled The River (1951). He invited Rumer to fly to America and get involved in writing the film script. He also sought Rumer’s assistance in selecting suitable actors and during the shooting of the film in India when it was begun towards the end of the year 1949. He and his filmmaking, impacted on a number of Indians who felt drawn towards him during the filming of The River. Some, notably Satyajit Ray and others, who assisted him during the shooting of the film, went on to make important contributions to Indian cinema in diverse ways.

In a career that spanned half a century, he made more than 30 films. His cinema was compared to his father’s impressionistic paintings and the cinematic excellence of his films was considered remarkable because of his concentrating not on the beauty of specific images and scenes, but on their overall aestheticism and impact. His work won him wide recognition. He was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1975 and was made an officer of France’s Legion of Honour in 1976. He died in America but his body was flown back to France where he was buried with full state honours.

Jean Renoir

The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)