The Great Indian Film Hunt

The Great Indian Film Hunt

I’m looking for 21 of India’s most wanted missing films

P K Nair’s last long interview on cinema, broadcast on Resonance FM in London. You can download the interview here and to listen to the whole show here.

If you have any information about these films – posters, lobby cards, newspaper reviews and cuttings, songs released on vinyl – please contact me (Shruti Narayanswamy) on Twitter or email me (hunterwalikibeti [at] gmail [dot] com).

I’ve written more about these missing films and why they’re important here. This list is based on an article by P K Nair, founder of the National Film Archive of India, and subject of the documentary ‘Celluloid Man‘ (see below) who, sadly, passed away 4th March 2016. We became friends in the last few years of his life and he will be missed very much.

Update 2nd July 2014: Awful news today, it looks like we may have to add as many as 60 films to the rolling list of missing Indian film treasures as The Bombay Talkies Ltd archive has been extensively damaged in a fire at its Borivli office in Mumbai last Thursday, 26th June 2014. I’ll try to work out which films have been stored digitally, which are in the NFAI archive in Pune, and which are now believed lost unless other prints can be found. This may take a while as I’m not in Pune at the moment and the NFAI is in the process of digitising all of its catalogues (also there was a power cut today). One of Bombay Talkies’ own prints which may be lost is Ashok Kumar’s debut ‘Jeevan Naiya‘, here is J S Kashyap’s ‘Koi hamdam na rahaa‘ from the 1936 Bombay talkies Ltd film. Thanks to Carla for the alert: it shows the way the world is going, I’m in Mumbia and a fellow film geek in America breaks it to me on Twitter!

21 most wanted missing Indian films

Poster from 'Alam Ara' ("Jewel of the World") 1931

Alam Ara (1931)(“Ornament of the World”) Hindi: आलम आरा, Urdu: عالم آراءDir: Ardeshir M. Irani. Studio: Imperial Films Company. IMDB entry.First Indian talkie and musical. Based on a Persian fairytale, it featured 7 songs. Only the images below survive. The one remaining print known to exist was sold for scrap by the producer’s son. This is considered the most important of all India’s lost films.


Dhirendranath Ganguly in 'Bilat Ferat'. Source:

Bilet Ferat (1921)(“The England Returned”)Dir: N C Laharry. Prod., starring: Dhiren Ganguli. Studio: Indo-British Film. IMDB entryFirst Indian film to feature several intimate kissing scenes between the stars Dhirendranath Ganguli and Manmatha Pal.


Bhakta Vidur

Bhakta Vidur (1921)(“Devotion of Vidura”) Hindi: भक्त विदुरDir: Kanjibhai Rathod. Studio: Kohinoor Film Company. IMDB entryFirst Indian film to be banned by British censors. It was banned in Madras and Karachi for the portrayal of the character of Vidura as a Mahatma Gandhi-like figure.


Saukari Pash ("The Indian Shylock", 1925) was directed by Baburao Painter, who had founded the Marhastra Film Studios at Kolhapur in 1919. The Indian director R. V. Shantaram played a starring role in the film.

Saukari Pash (1925)(English release title: ‘The Indian Shylock’)Dir: Baburao Painter. Studio: Maharashtra Film Company. IMDB entryConsidered the first neorealist film in Indian cinema and one of the finest silent Indian silent films, it was a commentary on the social injustice faced by farmers. It notably starred V Shantaram.


“>Tagore's 'Sacrifice' was the basis for Naval Gandhi's missing 1927 film 'Balidan'.

Balidan (1927)(“Sacrifice”) Bengali: বিসর্জনDir: Naval Gandhi. IMDB entryAn adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s play ‘Visarjan‘. Using the metaphor of animal sacrifice, the film questioned the validity of traditions.


Sulochana, star of Imperial's 1928 'Anarkali'.

Anarkali (1928)Dir: R S Choudhury. Studio: Imperial Films Company. IMDB entry.Before K Asif’s much loved costume spectacular ‘Mughal-E-Azam‘ (1960) came ‘Anarkali’, the story of an ill-fated romance between a prince and a dancing girl. Anarkali was played by the legendary Sulochana.More…

Khooda Ki Shaan (1931)(“Wrath”)Dir: R S Choudhury. Studio: Imperial Films Company. IMDB entryAnother Sulochana starrer, it was a social interest film revolving around the issues of caste.


Shyam Sundar 9 (without attribution)

Shyam Sundar (1932)Marathi: श्याम सुंदरDir: Bhalji G Pendharkar. Studio: Saraswati Cinetone. IMDB entryFirst Marathi film to complete a Silver Jubilee (25 week run). It was also the first Indian film to have a scene added to attract repeat audiences. Starring Shahu Modak and Shanta Apte, it was a mythological film drawing from the Vishnu Purana.


Sairandhri 1933

Sairandhari (1933)Dir: V Shantaram. Studio: Prabhat Film Company. IMDB entryFirst Indian film in colour. A costume spectacular, it was made in India and later sent to the UFA Studio in Germany for colour processing.More…
Grihalakshmi 1934

Griha Laxmi (1934)(“Educated Wife”)Dir: Sarvottam Badami. Studio: Sagar. IMDB entryConsidered a fine example of women centric films of the period, depicting the goodness of the traditional values of an Indian wife.


Indira M.A. 1934

Indira M.A. (1934)Dir: Nandlal Jaswantlal. Studio: Imperial Films Company. IMDB entrySulochana, at the height of her fame, played an Oxford-educated woman trying to balance modern and traditional ideas of Indian womanhood.More…
The Mill (Mazdoor) 1934

Mill Mazdoor (1934)(“The Mill”)Dir: Mohan Bhavnani. Studio: Ajanta Cinetone. IMDB entryFirst Indian talkie banned by British censors, who came under pressure from Indian mill owners. Based on a Munshi Premchand novel, it was a story on the rights of the working class. On the basis of having mutinous undertones, the film was banned.


Durga Khote, star of 'Seeta' 1934.

Seeta (1934)Dir: Devaki Bose. Studio: East India Film Company. IMDB entryFirst Indian talkie to be exhibited at an international film festival. A Marathi language film, ‘Seeta’ was unique in depicting gods and goddesses as human. Starring Durga Khote, it was shown at the 2nd Venice International Film Festival.More…
Sohrab Modi as Hamlet,1935

Khoon Ka Khoon (1935)(“Blood for blood” ‘Hamlet’)

Dir: Sohrab Modi. Studio: Minerva Movietone, Stage Film. IMDB entryFirst talkie adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. It was filmed in Hindi and Urdu and shot in the ‘play within a play’ format.More…

Prem Pujaari (1935)(“Worshiper of Love”)Dir: Rafiq Ghaznavi. Studio: Jayant Studios. IMDB entryStars Pramila, the first Miss India. Pramila (Esther Victoria Abraham), like Sulochana (Ruby Myers), belonged to the Baghdadi Jew Community and played strong female protagonists onscreen.


Leela Chitnis, still from 'Chaaya' (“Holy Crime”) 1936

Chaaya (1936)(“Holy Crime”)Dir: Vinayak. Studio: Huns Pics. IMDB entryBased on a short story by V S Khandekar, it stars renowned Marathi actors Master Vinayak and Leela Chitnis.



Balayogini (1936)(“Child Widow”) Tamil: பாலயோகினி; Telugu: బాలయోగినిDir: K. Subramanyam. Studio: Madras United Artists Corporation. IMDB entryFirst children’s film made in South India. Made in Tamil and Telugu, film historians consider it one of the most important social interest films ever made in South India. . Child artist Baby Saroja was dubbed by the press as “India’s Shirley Temple”. The film was praised for commenting on the plight of widows in India.


Shanta Apte played the role of Radha, the god Krishna's beloved girl cow-drover

Gopal Krishna (1937)Dir: Rajaram Vankudre Shantaram. Studio: Prabhat Film Company.The 1938 remakes of ‘Gopal Krishna’ in Hindi and Marathi are available on VHS and DVD but the silent original still remains elusive. A mythological film that stressed the human aspects of the story rather than miracles, it starred Shanta Apte and Ram Marathe.More…
Achhut_Chandulal Shah_H_1940_8039_2_Page_11

Achhut (1940)(“The Untouchable”)Dir: Chandulal Shah. Studio: Ranjit Studios. IMDB entryThe film consciously echoed Mahatma Gandhi’s message to eradicate untouchability. The characters overcome the caste barrier in the ending, extremely unconventional for films of that period.


Zindagi_P C Barua_H_1940_Page_1

Zindagi (1940)(“Life”)Dir: Promatesh Chandra Barua. Studio: New Theatres Ltd. IMDB entryAn unmarried couple run away from the woman’s brutish husband to find salvation in service to society. One of the highest grossing films of 1940, it starred Kundan Lal Saigal, Pahadi Sanyal, Ashalata, Jamuna, Shyam Laha, Nemo, Sitara Devi, Bikram Kapoor, Ragni Rani.


Ulti Ganga 1942 1

Ulti Ganga (1942)

(“The Ganga flows in reverse”)

Dir: Keshavrao Dhaiber. Studio: Minerva Movietone. IMDB entry

Pramila stars in this film with strong feminist undertones. ‘Ulti Ganga’ imagined a world where traditional gender roles are reversed.



And introducing…

These are three more lost films that we couldn’t resist mentioning. Any exploration into India’s missing film treasures raises yet more titles… I’ve no doubt this will be a constant feature of the Film Hunt. Yet more elusive movies with incredible stories behind them will keep cropping up, on a continent where hundreds of thousands of films have been made for a century, in dozens of languages.

The Film Hunt hasn’t yet taken into account any of the films produced in Lahore before independence, for example. During his tenure Nair was unable to have any dialogue with his Pakistani counterparts. (This is still the case. NFAI has no formal liaison with film historians and archivists in Pakistan). The selection above represents the films that Nair considered both most important to track down because of their content, and – due to their age – also those at most risk of deterioration.

So we’re breaking our rule (not for the last time, almost certainly) by adding these to Nair’s list, “unofficially” because… well just look at them…

Two of these films are believed missing – both versions of ‘Wildcat of Bombay’ starring the one, the only, Sulochana – but neither version made it into the two articles P K Nair wrote on his “most wanted” films. (The same list as in the 1984 UNESCO article, plus ‘Zindagi’, appeared in Nick De Ocampo’s ‘Lost Films of Asia‘). ‘Wildcat of Bombay’ came up in conversation with Nair in 2014, and when we saw the brochure for the 1936 talkie at NFAI’s archives… wow. You’ll see in a moment why these two movies have to be here too.

The third, ‘Hunterwali’, is a partial success story of the Film Hunt and offers hope that some or all of the missing films can be rediscovered one day soon. In 1990, after the original Fearless Nadia vehicle appeared in Nair’s 1984 UNESCO list, the Wadia family donated their own incomplete print to the NFAI collection. It waits in Pune for its missing reels and most of its sound to be found, so that the ‘woman with the whip’ can be seen leaping across the rooftops the way that Indian audiences first saw her in 1935.

Hunterwali (1935)

(“A Woman With a Whip” English release title: ‘The Princess and the Hunter’)Dir: Homi Wadia. Studio: Wadia Movietone. IMDb entryStarring Mary Evans aka Fearless Nadia as a masked vigilante, it is one of the finest examples of female led Indian stunt films. The surviving posters and stills of the film have turned Fearless Nadia into a cultural icon. 10 reels of ‘Hunterwali’ were deposited with the NFAI in 1990, 3 with sound. 4 – 5 reels are still missing.More…
Bambai Ki Billi (1936) brochure cover

Bambai Ki Billi (1927)Dir: Mohan Dayaram Bhavnani. Studio: Imperial Films Company. IMDB entry(“The Wildcat of Bombay”)Bambai Ki Billi (1936)

Dir: Nandlal Jaswantlal. Studio: Imperial Films Company. IMDB entry

The master criminal known as the Wildcat is pursued by Dinshaw Bilimoria as police Inspector Suresh. The glamourous Sulochana (Ruby Myers) played 8 roles in this crime thriller, many of them men: a gardener, a policeman, a Hyderabadi gentleman, a street urchin. a European blonde, an old banana-seller and an expert pickpocket who gives her money to charity. (According to Sulochana in an interview in 1951). It was a remake of her 1927 silent hit, also believed lost.


P.K. Nair, founder of the NFAI

P.K. Nair, formative Director of the National Film Archive of India.

This selection of missing Indian film treasures is based on an article by P K Nair, late Director of the National Film Archive of India, and subject of Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s documentary ‘Celluloid Man‘. The article first appeared in The UNESCO Courier in 1984. Mr Nair was very kind in giving me permission to reproduce it on Mahal Movies. He was also very generous with his time in retirement to slightly update this list, and give me his guidance in compiling the historical information about each film which is linked above.

Why choose this list of films? It’s often said that over a century, India has produced more than 750 films a year. (This isn’t even counting the film heritages of Pakistan, Bangladesh – which were part of the same film market as India before 1947 – Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tibet and other Asian neighbours…)

Mary Evans aka 'Fearless Nadia' in 'Hunterwali'.

Mary Evans aka ‘Fearless Nadia’ in ‘Hunterwali’.

That’s 75,000 films. 1,268 Silent features were made in India but only three survive in a complete form. There are portions of another nine. P K Nair was adamant that every one of those 75,000+ films is worth preserving. The point of launching a personal campaign based on his list is to draw attention to a selection of important firsts in Indian cinema that must be saved. These films are missing for now, but they may still exist somewhere. As Mr Nair noted of the three silent features that survive: “Ironically all the three co-productions were obtained from abroad.”

The ‘Most Wanted’ list has drawn attention to British film treasures that were considered lost but many of which have been rediscovered as a result of the BFI’s list being publicised around the world. At the time we interviewed Mr Nair, BFI announced that another film on the list had been found: George Pearson’s rags to riches silent classic ‘Love, Life and Laughter’ has been discovered in the collection of Dutch film institute, EYE. Could the same thing happen for V Shantaram’s 1929 silent original of ‘Gopal Krishna‘? Or the 1936 Tamil and Telegu film ‘Balayogini‘ which was the first film to address the plight of widows, and starred the “Tamil Shirley Temple” Baby Saroja? What about the 1934 film ‘Mazdoor‘ which was among the first Indian films to portray working class lives?

Will future audiences get to see the Fearless Nadia of 1935 kick bad guy’s asses for the very first time in a complete print of ‘Hunterwali‘ (aka “Woman with a Whip”)? The possibility that these films still exist somewhere, sitting in a film can with an enigmatic scrawled label, is too exciting to resist.

I’m sure other people will come up with their own ‘must have’ list of missing films from the Indian Subcontinent. This is a list based on an opinion, but where else better to start than with the opinion of the man who in effect founded our national film archive? The great Indian film hunt is on.

shruti narayanswamyShruti Narayanswamy is based between Mumbai in India, and St Andrews, Scotland where she’s studying for a Phd. In Pune, she interned at the NFAI, looking after the database of images. Shruti’s Phd research is focussing on women in Indian film. Before pursuing her love of old movies and the cinema of Asia, Shruti was a frustrated corporate executive and biotechnologist.

appeal to film lovers