If you are fascinated by India’s most iconic building Taj Mahal in Agra, if you have an eye for cinema and if you are an ardent fan of Grammy-nominated sitar player Anouska Shankar, you just can’t miss this rare Indian silent film, Shiraz : A Romance of India. The good news is that this silent movie is no more voiceless and a fresh classical score has been commissioned for the film, which has been performed live by an eight-piece ensemble of players on Indian and western instruments.
Made in 1928 by Franz Osten and shot entirely on-location in Agra, this Indian silent classic Shiraz happens to be a spectacle of love, undying devotion and loss. It tells the story behind the construction of Taj Mahal, of the princess who became the Empress Mumtaz Mahal- to whom the mausoleum was dedicated and one of the most celebrated love stories of India. The film features an all Indian cast, produced by and starring, Indian cinema pioneer, Himanshu Rai.
#ShiraztheFilm – A story that holds you through silence
The story is about Selima, an orphaned princess who finds way into young Shiraz’s house and then into Prince Khurram’s life. Both the men fall in love with the princess but only one gets to marry her. The Prince succeeds to the throne as Emperor Shah Jahan and Selina becomes Mumtaz Mahal. When she dies and the Emperor decides to make a monument which is one of its kind, it is Siraz whose design gets selected. With the turn of events and as destiny would have it, Emperor and Shiraz together oversee the building of the Taj Mahal, a monument which was built in the memory of the woman they both loved.
- The making of the film united the film making expertise of three countries- India, Britain and Germany.
- This kind of international co-production was a common funding strategy in the late 1920s film industry.
- Shiraz has one of the most famously-notoriously, even-passionate kisses in Indian cinema.
- An all-Indian cast-numbering as many as 50,000 were used and genuine locations were used.
- Franz Osten was a German director and brother of Peter Ostermayer, head of Emelka studios in Munich.
What Anoushka Shankar had to say about it?
The renowned sitarist and composer, Anoushka Shankar was in the capital recently to talk about her work and how giving a score to this film happens to be one of the most challenging tasks. She hadn’t done anything like this before and she was absolutely excited about it. She quoted that “Shiraz is rarest of things, a surviving silent film and she was moved after watching the movie.’ The emotions and expressions made it a great movie already. The sound was never missed. However, music is helping to make a beautiful connect with the audience. Now, to give music to every bit was like renewing the whole film and she had to be aware of the musical choices that needed to be made. “
How has restoration helped the movie?
Overall, it is a visionary film. Music has added a new dimension to it. Its like making a 2D film into a 3D one. Good music is about adding a life, so here its almost like adding a fresh breath of air. It is a great movie, well made. It has become more contemporary after the addition of music. The audience will connect with it better. Since the film was old, it was shaky and flickering. A lot of work had to be done to remove the flickers and make is still.
The most important part of restoration is adding of musical notes throughout the 108 minute movie. Anoushka has scored the soundtrack for a mixture of Indian and Western instruments- sitar, bansuri (bamboo flute), and varied Indian percussion to provide authenticity, and violin, clarinet, cello and piano to add depth and breadth.
Things to Know
- British Council and BFI National Archive have been behind restoring this silent film. The restored movie ‘Shiraz: A Romance of India’ was screened at the Barbican on 14 October 61st BFI London Film Festival world premiere.
- An year-long celebration has been going on for last 8 months to long standing relationship between India and the UK, which has seen a vast programme of cultural exchange and activity take place in cities across both countries throughout 2017 which has included an extensive 8 month programme of classic and contemporary Indian Cinema at BFI Southbank.
- The film will tour four Indian cities as part of the UK/India 2017 Year of Culture. Tickets for the live score screenings of Shiraz in India, can be bought by the public online in India on BookMyShow and via a process of pre-registration, expected to reach more than 4000 people. The tour will be made possible with the kind support of Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Foundation in Hyderabad as part of the Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Festival 2017 and Sangit Kala Mandir in Kolkata.
Notes to Editors
Venues and dates
1 November Hyderabad International Convention Centre, Hyderabad
3 November Sangit Kala Mandir, Kolkata
4 November Siri Fort Auditorium, New Delhi
5 November Sri Shanmukhananda Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi Auditorium, Mumbai