Before Midnight

Dir: Various Various



86 mins


At the stroke of midnight on 14-15 August 1947, India finally achieved Independence from Britain.

Sixty years 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 are to be found in the home movies — many of which are made publicly available here for the first time. The Maharajah of Jodhpur’s home movies provide an epic portrait of princely power in the 1940s, whilst those of the Craster family offer an intimate picture of a British family’s life in India.

Featuring over 25 films and extracts the programme takes us on a journey from the Northwest Frontier to Lahore, Rajasthan to Darjeeling and beyond, Before Midnight is an unrivalled portrait of India in the decades before Independence.

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Panorama of Calcutta | 1899

One of the earliest surviving films of India, for over 100 years this film was believed to show Calcutta from the perspective of boat travellers along the Hooghly river, a tributary of the Ganges. However, Indian viewers have now identified the film as having been shot in the holy city of Varanasi.

Coronation Durbar at Delhi | 1903

On New Year’s Day 1903 a Coronation Durbar (public reception) was held to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra as Emperor and Empress of India. The second of three Delhi Durbars (after those held in 1877 and 1911), this one, masterminded by Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, was the most ambitious and spectacular.

Commissioner Higgins Visits Ahmedabad Girls' School | 1904

Commissioner Higgins of the Salvation Army visits Ahmedabad Girls’ School and is greeted by a display of vigorous pom-pom waving. The speedy walk-by — and rapid departure — of Higgins and his entourage are unintentionally hilarious.

Birthday Procession of a Maharjah | 1905

A Maharajah’s coming-of-age celebration, featuring a procession of elephants.

An Indian Washing the Baby | 1906

A young child enjoys an enthusiastic wash and a traditional Ayurvedic massage with almond oil, intended to expel toxins, aid digestion, and improve circulation.

A Native Street in India | 1906

A busy street is filmed from a static camera position. Unfortunately, due to the lack of clearly recognisable features, scholars have not been able to identify the city.

Cinghalese Dances — extract | 1910

This incomplete film features a series of scenes shot in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), captured on a beautifully tinted film print. The extract seen here captures a Cinghalese Dance.

Native Life in Ceylon — extract | 1910

A vivid, compelling early travelogue of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Delhi Durbar — extracts | 1911

The Delhi Durbar on 12 December 1911 was held to commemorate the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary as Emperor and Empress of India. These extracts capture the ceremonies, including parades, the Durbar Review of 50,000 Indian soldiers and Indian Kings and Queens paying homage.

Sword Dance Performed Before the King and Queen in India | 1912

A performance of some considerable agility, this film shows men risking life and limb as they jump through sword formations. It was likely filmed at the Delhi Durbar of 1911.

The Wonderful Fruit of the Tropics — extracts | 1914

A fruit harvest appears all the more delicious given that the film is tinted. Coloured tints were applied to the film using stencils.

Calcutta Topical No. 1 — extracts | 1925

Calcutta Topical claimed to cover “all the leading events of the season”. This one was the King-Emperor’s Cup Race, held at the Calcutta Race Course, but the horses take second place to fashion.

Scenes at his Excellency the Viceroy's Garden Party at Belvedere — extracts | 1926

This garden party given by Lord Irwin, then Viceroy of India, during the Calcutta ‘season’ is reminiscent of the awkward ‘bridge party’ in E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Guests include Lord Lytton (Governor of Bengal), Colonel McKenzie, his military secretary, and Mrs. McKenzie. Unfortunately, the identities of the Indian guests were not documented.

A Punjab Village — extracts | 1925

This film made for young audiences is a snapshot of life in a village in the Punjab, capturing activities from the production of mustard oil to the shoeing of a bullock.

The North West Frontier — extracts | 1928

Located on the edge of the Khyber Pass, on the ancient Silk Road, route, Pakistan’s north west frontier has long had a troubled history.

The Home Movies of T. Burtt — extracts | 1933

T. Burtt’s home movies include this vivid portrait of Lahore in the 1930s. Burtt achieved his extraordinary film of prayers at the Badshahi Mosque with the full approval and assistance of the Mosque authorities.

Craster Family Home Movies — extracts | c1933

The Craster family home movies depict filmmaker George and daughter Mary at home at Jotwara, Rajasthan. Colonel George Craster had a long career in the Indian Army. First commissioned in 1898, he retired in 1930 and became Chief Staff Officer of Jaipur State, where these films were shot.

A Foot-hill Town — extract | 1937

A visit to historic Darjeeling, one of the Himalayan foothill towns favoured by members of the Raj in their bid to escape Calcutta’s summer heat.

Delhi — extract | 1938

As much a test for showing off Jack Cardiff’s Technicolor cinematography as a portrait of Delhi, this short film presents the city as rarely seen before. After a brief historical preamble, the film moves into an extended sequence displaying the gorgeously coloured saris worn by Indian women in the gardens of the Red Fort.

Temples of India — extract | 1938

A dancer performs Shiva’s ‘Dance of Destruction’.

A Road in India — extract | 1938

The sights of India as seen from the perspective of a dusty road, with compelling cinematography by Jack Cardiff. Please note: This portrait contains racist stereotyping.

In Rural Maharashtra | 1940

Happy farmers, a wedding and some giant cauliflowers. Rural Maharashtra in west India is the setting of this film. It’s a quaint look at country life, with the roles the farmer and his wife played by professional actors in a style reminiscent of Indian films of the time.

The Maharajah of Jodhpur's Home Movies — extracts | c1947

The BFI National Archive looks after the astonishing home movie collection of Maharajah Ummed Singh, ruler of Jodhpur between 1918 and 1947, and his illustrious family. While much work remains to be done on researching the people and places they depict, these films represent an invaluable record of princely power in the days of the Raj.

Tins for India | 1941

Ever wondered about the number of uses an empty kerosene tin can be put to? This film tells us that the kerosene tin is a sight as as common as a palm tree or a bullock cart in ‘real’, rural India. We watch the production of a tin and learn about the different ways it can be used after the kerosene is used up.

Clarmont Skrine's Home Movies — extracts | c1946

Known in India as ‘Skrino’, Clarmont Skrine had a long career as an envoy of the Raj. During his time in southern India, a friend wrote: “He was so unlike the stereotyped ICS [Indian Civil Service] dignitaries. He was so human and approachable.” Skrine was not an ambitious man, and apparently much more interested in his two big passions, exploration and photography.

G. Mackrell's Home Movies — extracts | c1947

G. Mackrell was a tea planter and big game hunter who lived in India from the 1930s to the 1950s. During WWII, he helped rescue refugees fleeing what was then known as Upper Burma (now northern Myanmar) ahead of the Japanese advance. His amateur films provide some of the clearest records of the life that many British entrepreneurs and military personnel forged in India prior to Independence.

Noakhali March — extracts | 1946

Mahatma Gandhi visits Noakhali in a mission to restore peace and harmony after the bloody 1946 Hindu-Muslim riots (also known as the Calcutta Killings or the Noakhali Massacre). The film includes shots of Susheela Nayar (Gandhi’s doctor), Mann Gandhi (his granddaughter) and Jawaharlal Nehru and was shot by Kanu Gandhi, Gandhi’s great nephew.

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