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Regional Film History in Post-Independence India | Shabistan Film Archive

A collection of celluloid ephemera from India

Project Abstract

This project aims to explore a collection of celluloid film reels dating from the 20th century that are at great risk of destruction: lost to dereliction at labs, out of use due to obsolete technology, and prone to recyclability for their scrap value. The content of this material includes narrative cinema from regional film industries, documentary reels and home movies, along with less well represented and traditionally undervalued matter such as film trailers, commercials and advertisements. This project aims to bring to light the diverse regional histories of film in post-independence India and to systematically explore digitization of film reels.

Read more about the project >


Explore the Collection

  • Full inventory of the Shabistan Film Archive celluloid films. Most of the prints in the collection are in 35mm, with a few in 16mm. (Downloads excel file) 
  • Inventory of films from the Children's Film Society of India. (Downloads excel file) 
  • Highlights from the Collection:
    • Government newsreels and other documentaries, under the purview of Films Division of India. These include both prints and various kinds of preprints (negatives, internegatives, interpositives, positive masters) and prints. Films Division films were often dubbed in many languages and occasionally subtitled.
    • Children’s films, from the Children’s Film Society of India, a government agency. These materials are prints in various languages.
    • Negatives of student journalism films. We know very little about them beyond the markings on the can at present and hope to work further on examining these films in detail in the coming years.
    • Negatives of commercial films. These are films that had been stored by the labs that processed them, and were discarded when the labs shut if they couldn’t find the owner or the owner chose not to reclaim the film. They span a wide variety of dates, languages, and genres, from major commercial Hindi films to obscure films in Oriya and Bhojpuri. A few are Nepali, Sri Lankan, or Pakistani films processed by Indian labs. A few films are unreleased films, many untitled, so these are likely the only extant copies of this material.



Highlighting the Diversity of Indian Film

During their survey work, the Shabistan team idenified a wide range of film cultures, including films from different regions, in numerous languages, and spanning a host of genres. The collection includes films from the Children's Film Society of India, a state funded institute that creates films to stimulate a child's creativity, compassion and critical thinking. Awareness and access to the collection through Shabistan has opened up research opportunities for scholars.

Read these scholarly reflections to learn more about the CFSI Collection and the importance of Shabistan's work to preserve and catalogue the films: