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Delhi City in Historic Film Footage
(October 2016 issue)

Today’s historian depends not only on the archaeological specimens or textual documents for writing history, but a wide range of other unconventional materials that were not given much attention earlier. Some of these include photography, print and visual culture, and oral histories, among others. Cinema or film footage is another powerful source for knowing the details of our past, albeit of last one century or so. Delhi or New Delhi, the capital of India, has been recorded extensively on film since the Arrival of the film camera in India. While some films have been made by the British or European/American filmmakers, a few are also by Indian institutions such as the Films Division. We provide some samples of what is publicly available on youtube. What we have chosen here is mostly documentary footage and not fictionalised accounts of the past.

The Delhi Durbar 1911, colour, 2:12 mins
Commentary talks of how this is the first time colour film has been recorded in India for the commemoration of King George, the fifth, as horses and soldiers parade before the public. The footage is probably a report by the special correspondence to The Times. One of the commentators says ‘I think the natives must have been extremely impressed’ by the extravagant display of imperial loyalty. 

The Great Coronation of Delhi Durbar 1911, duration: 19:45 mins
Most amazing is the scene showing how various past kings of Indian states paid their homage to the majesties, by bowing down to them. It also throws light on how the rituals of respect and paying homage may have existed in the erstwhile Indian states.
Also see a shorter video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsROlr0WXmc

Delhi, a film directed by Hans Nieter, colour, 1938
In its visual detail, this has some valuable (and good quality) footage, but the commentary by the British/American filmmakers is full of faulty and biased views. For instance, the filmmakers continue to see India as a ‘Hindu’ country that was so far ruled by Muslims who the British overthrew, and so on.

Streets of India: Colour, 8 mm, duration 2 mins
Covering mostly Delhi, it shows the funeral procession of a dead person - probably a Muslim.
No commentary.

India -The Jewel of the British Raj
(Colour, but the footage not in very good quality)

Pakistan and India Partition 1947 - The Day India Burned (BBC)

British Occupation of India in Color - Full Documentary (49 mins)

First Republic Day parade of India at Rajpath 1950 (5:45 mins)
English commentary in a typical British style.

Delhi: Yesterday And Today (Films Division film), 1971, 15 mins

The Emergency 1975–77: The Darkest Page of Indian History

The above is a selection of archival film footage. If you come across some more interesting footage of Delhi, please let us know.
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