Light of Asia (Indian Silent Cinema 1912-1934)

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Item Code: NAG799
Author: Suresh Chabria
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9789383098026
Pages: 340 (16 Color & Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.5 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 690 gm
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Shipped to 153 countries
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About The Book

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.

About The Author

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.


Foreword to Revised and Expanded Edition7
Foreword to the First Edition (1994)11
Before Our Eyes: A Short History of India' s Silent Cinema17
The Indian Silent Cinema Retrospective, Pordenone. 199443
The Cobra' s Hoard81
The Hoard: Three Films by Baburao Painter87
The Film Record95
Bibliographical Essay117
Introduction to Revised and Expanded Edition127
Introduction to the First Edition (1994)131
Filmography: Indian Silent Cinema 1912-1934137
Filmography Index321
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