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.
Unfortunately, none of the videos can be embedded, so you'll have to click on the lovely preview images to link to the video. Enjoy!
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.
No embedding on all videos; click image to link