BBC), has digitised its extensive archive ("90,000 videos from 1897-1970") online with free and full-length viewing for any visitor. Given that Britain ruled the Indian subcontinent until 1947, the archive has a substantial number of clips of Indian events and every day life from the first half of the 20th century: independence, visits from British royalty, disorder and protests, ceremonies and weddings, festivals, politicians, dances, and much more. Much of the older footage has a strong Orientalist tone; pictured on the left is a nice dance-related example from Indian Peeps (1930).
All of the videos can be purchased and downloaded, but since the listed duration of the videos for purchase are the same as their previews, I don't see any incentive to purchase them at exorbitant prices (30 Euros for a one-minute clip!). What's most entertaining about the site is the descriptions; the catalogers given the job of dutifully describing each scene in every video must have gotten tired at some point because some of their phrasings are hilarious! But I'm glad they went to that trouble because it allows the video events to be text searchable.
Devadasi Footage from the 1930s
The most important find has been a silent clip titled "Maharanee of Baroda" circa 1930-1935. Starting at 8:06, two devadasi dancers perform in front of their musical ensemble. The footage is stunning - the dancers are dressed exactly like those in old archival photos from this time period and before; it's as if the old photos have come to life! They begin by dancing what looks like the alarippu portion of a Sadir/present-day Bharatanatyam performance, then move onto a more free-flowing, folksy dance style, and then return to Sadir/Bharatanatyam around 11:30. The musicians and their instruments are fascinating; I've read accounts of how bagpipes used to be part of Sadir performances before the dance form was recreated as Bharatanatyam- I wonder if the musician on the right is an example of what is meant by "bagpipe." Last, we must of course remember that this was a staged performance for the camera, but its historical value is immense.
Dancers appear 8:07
exhibition catalog. The description to that image says, "A set of talented devadasis were part of the dowry of Chimnabai, a Tanjore princess who was married to the Maharaja of Baroda, Sayajirao Gaekwad III, in 1883. The devadasis stayed back and entertained the Court and thus Bharatanatyam came to north and west India." Aha! The dancers in the video must have been descendents of the devadasis brought to Baroda with Chimnabai. However, the video dancers look so similar to the picture that it makes me wonder if the picture was taken much later than the 1880s and is really them!
Uday Shankar and Simkie Dance Footage
"Radha and Krishna (1932)" - This is additional footage of Uday Shankar and Simkie that I don't think has been widely available before! The choreography is quite similar to the video below, but it features a lovely closeup at the beginning and some interesting inspirations from Kathak and Kathakali by Shankar at the end (the description calls it a "flourish"!). Gotta love how the opening misidentifies the performance as a "characteristic Brahman dance"; clearly the makers didn't know who the performers were and their connection with modern dance in India! But it fits with the Orientalism of the time period.
"Sinuous Sidelight (1931)" - Remember the wonderful Uday Shankar and Simkie footage that Richard at the Dances on the Footpath blog found a while ago? This clip appears to be from the exact same footage, and while it is not interrupted by shots of Ravi Shankar and family and can be watched almost full length, the last 20 seconds or so are cut off at the end. This version (by BritishPathé not Pathe-Nathan) identifies the performance as a "Hindu dance" and then feels compelled to point out the "bizarre instruments" with an intertitle.
Ram Gopal Footage
"Indian Dancer 1947" - While there are some clear vague inspirations from Bharatanatyam and Kathakali, Gopal seems to be going for a more Uday Shankar-esque pan-Asian look with the southeast Asian headress and costuming. Though I've not yet read much about Ram Gopal and how "authentic" his dance was supposed to be, I can see why "westerners" in particular found him so fascinating to watch given his extremely expressive face and controlled eye movements inspired by Kathakali. Curiously, he barely moves his torso (no "statuesque" poses) and focuses almost exclusively on his face, arms/hands, and feet.
"Indian Dancer 1947 (2)" - Another video shot in the same location as the above, this time other dancers join Gopal around 1:15. At 1:32, he performs alarippu-like movements with a male student or company member, I presume. After seeing Gopal's headdress, I think I understand where Bhaskar got his inspiration from (see this post)!
Also, over at the Pad.ma archive, there is rare color footage of Ram Gopal dancing. I can't figure out how to link to the video at all on their latest interface, but if you go to Pad.ma it's the video titled "The dancer Ram Gopal wants to see himself in colour, 8mm, 1938."
Other Interesting Videos
"Pakistani Dancer 1953"- While the dance of the cute little girl here is nothing to write home about, the voiceover explains the clip's value. The little girl is Nargis, daughter of Bulbul Chowdhury, "Pakistan's leading dancer" at that time. A tribute article to Chowdhury describes him as the "pioneer of modern dance in Bangladesh [formerly East Pakistan]" who took inspiration from Uday Shankar and "helped break down Muslim conservative attitudes towards dance." The man standing behind Nargis looks exactly like Bulbul so I think it's safe to assume it's him. How wonderful to find a rare video clip of him in 1953, a year before his death.
"Royal Wedding in India 1946" - At 1:09, a young woman dances for the guests at the wedding for the royal heir of Junagadh state in present-day Gujarat. She simply waves her arms around gracefully and the performance doesn't seem fit for the grandeur of the surroundings!
"Hindu Dancers 1929" - Last (and definitely least) we have a classic "white people doing 'exotic' 'hindu' dance" paced as slow as a tortoise. Reminds me a bit of the Ted Shawn/Ruth St. Denis style.
Last, I'll close with a link to a video from another digital archive associated with the Centre of South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge; it's a Kathakali performance from the early 1930s.