Lifting the curtain

A Throw of Dice (Prapancha Pash)

I had an idea to devote August to a particular theme here at the Bioscope, namely catalogues and databases, but problems with some resources I’ve been testing have put that on the back-burner for the time being. Instead, it looks like Asian cinema is becoming our hot topic. If you follow the comments to the recent post on digitised newspapers from Singapore you will find a rich array of information on early Asian cinema studies from two expert scholars in the field, Stephen Bottomore and Stephen Hughes.

It is Stephen Hughes who has alerted us to the existence of BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies, a new journal which will be including early film subjects within its remit, as an essay in its first number indicates, Sudhir Mahadevan’s “Traveling Showmen, Makeshift Cinemas: The Bioscopewallah and Early Cinema History in India”. If you follow the Asian cinema category here at this Bioscope you will find a number of posts which cover bioscopewallahs or Indian touring film showmen, some of whom are still operating original silent-era projectors. The term comes from the Bioscope projector first marketed in the USA and the the UK by Charles Urban in the late 1890s/early 1900s, which proved so popular that it spread worldwide not just as a projector but as the name of where you saw films (the term is still common as a place where you see films in South Africa). UK fairground film shows were called bioscopes, many of the first UK cinemas were referred to as bioscopes, and one of the leading British film trade journals of the period was called The Bioscope. Anyway, a warm welcome to a well-named journal, which is operating in a grand tradition.

And then there’s more. On 25 August, at the Nehru Centre in London, there is a launch event for a year-long project (funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund) on the linkages between silent cinema in India and Britain, entitled Lifting the Curtain: Niranjan Pal & Indo-British Collaboration in Cinema in the UK (1902-29). This project is being managed by the South Asian Cinema Foundation (SACF) and began this May. The project main subject is screenwriter, director and playwright Niranjan Pal, who wrote the Anglo-Indo-German silent features The Light of Asia (1925), Shiraz (1928) and A Throw of Dice (1929, now available on DVD), before becoming chief scenarist at Bombay Talkies in 1934.

The Nehru Centre event will feature film clips and presentations on early cinema, filmmakers, filmmaking and film exhibition in Britain and India, together with information the various film sources that are available for students keen to conduct research in this area – a key aim of the project. The project is supported by the British Film Institute and the British Library, and among the speakers is the BL’s moving image curator, Luke McKernan i.e. me, talking about Charles Urban and the filming in Kinemacolor of the 1911 Delhi Durbar.

More information from the Nehru Centre (scroll down to 25 August) and the SACF site.