Before Midnight: a Portrait of India on Film, 1899-1947

Home movies, documentaries, dramas and comedies exploring how life was lived in British India.

At the stroke of midnight on 14/15 August 1947 India finally achieved independence from Britain. Six decades on, Before Midnight offers access to an unparalleled collection of films from the BFI National Archive exploring life in India during the early 20th century.

Some of the most potent records in the collection are found in the home movies – many of which are being made publicly available for the first time. The Maharajah of Jodhpur’s home movies provide an epic portrait of princely power in the 1930s and 40s, whilst those of the Gorrie family offer an intimate picture of family life and their expeditions into the Himalaya.

Here, too, are rarely seen dramas such as the BBC’s adaptation of Paul (Jewel in the Crown) Scott’s The Alien Sky (1956). The collection also features the films and TV dramas that helped to shape the mythologies of British India including The Drum (1938), The North West Frontier (1959) and The Far Pavilions (1984).

With over 100 non-fiction films the collection covers subjects that range from boat repairs to bone ceremonies, temples to tigers, the girl guides to Gandhi. Before Midnight provides a window not only on to this chapter from Britain’s past, but more importantly, offers an unrivalled portrait of how lives – both Indian and British – were led across the Subcontinent.

NB Although Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) was one of Britain’s possessions in the Indian subcontinent it was ruled as a Crown Colony directly from London. Given the many links with mainland India during this period – political, economic and cultural – we have included films of Ceylon in this collection.

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