Himanshu Rai’s 1928 film Shiraz restored for UK-India Year of Culture

A film made in 1928 by Himanshu Rai, a pioneer of Indian cinema, has been restored by the BFI for screening during the UK-India Year of Culture.
By Prasun Sonwalkar | Hindustan Times, London
UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2017 06:41 PM IST
British Film Institute head curator Robin Baker (left) in conversation with composer-sitar player Anoushka Shankar and actor Anil Kapoor at a gathering in London to announce a series of events in India and Britain during the UK-India Year of Culture.(HT Photo)

Shiraz, a 1928 silent film produced by one of the pioneers of Indian cinema, Himanshu Rai, has been restored by the British Film Institute (BFI) and will be screened in India and Britain as part of the UK-India Year of Culture.

The film has rarely been seen in India since the Indian-British-German production was made. It will premiere as the Archive Gala at the 61st BFI London Film Festival on October 14, said Robin Baker, BFI head curator. It will be showed in Agra later with the Taj Mahal as the backdrop.

Shiraz (90 min), which also stars Rai as the architect who designed the Taj Mahal, tells the love story of the 17th century princess who inspired the construction of the icon of love and romance. The film is being set to music by composer and sitar player Anoushka Shankar.

Shankar said at the launch event organised by the British Council, the Indian high commission and the British government that scoring music for the silent film was “challenging…as it also includes a passionate kiss. I wonder how to put it to music. Personally I was fascinated to see eroticism in an Indian film at that time.” 

She revealed that her father, sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, composed the iconic score of Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (1955) over eight hours one night, intuitively and instinctively, as Ray showed him the film's scenes one by one. 

“I can’t do the same over one night for Shiraz,” she remarked. She said she would try to retain the authenticity of the time and location, and use a mix of Indian and Western instruments. She added that an opera composed by Ravi Shankar will be performed in London in May. 

The event at BFI on Tuesday showcased a range of programmes as part of the year of culture, including screening of classics as part of the BFI's “India on Film” programme from April to December with a focus on “New Bollywood” films that push the boundaries of conventional film-making.

BFI archives include a range of Indian films and documentaries from 1899. Baker said the BFI is digitising 300 Indian films and will make them available online for free later this year. The collection includes films that have not been seen for decades, if ever.

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson said: “The UK and India are deeply proud of our rich cultural heritages and our world class creative and cultural industries. Through the year of culture we will celebrate modern India and the long-standing relationship, rooted in our flourishing people-to-people links.”

The event was addressed by digital and culture minister Matt Hancock, Indian high commissioner YK Sinha, British Council trustee Usha Prashar, and Darren Henley, chief executive of Arts Council England.

Film actor Anil Kapoor lauded the BFI initiative to restore Shiraz and said there is much the Indian film industry could learn from British filmmakers such as Danny Boyle and Richard Attenborough.

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