Home >Industry >What the newsreels tell us about India of the 1900s
The videos are precious minutes of history unfolding, with commentary that ranges from witty to snarky to outright imperious.
The videos are precious minutes of history unfolding, with commentary that ranges from witty to snarky to outright imperious.

What the newsreels tell us about India of the 1900s

News nostalgia from the archives of 'AP' and British Movietone

News from the 1900s is now just a click away. The Associated Press and British Movietone, the world’s largest collection of newsreel archives from 1895 to 1986, bring millions of minutes of events that shaped the World. The videos are precious minutes of history unfolding, with commentary that ranges from witty to snarky to outright imperious. Here are some videos that show India as it was in the mid 1900s.

Here’s a list of some related to India before and after independence, that capture the essence of those reels.

Winston Churchill sees grave crisis in India

As the voices for Independence grew louder in India, the political scenario in Britain where concerns over the difficulty of maintaining order in India was resulting in a great deal of confusion. To dispel any thought that the idea of Indian independence could be considered, Churchill makes this theatrical speech where he says “Great mismanagement (in Britain) is causing disturbance to 300 million primitive people (Indians) whose well-being is in our care."

India takes leave of British troops

This historic newsreel shows the first of British troops vacating Indian shores on account of the country’s independence in 1947. As the soldiers embark on the ‘Georgic’ in the Bombay harbor, Louis Mountbatten, the governor general, is quoted as saying “With the departure of British forces, the outward and visible sign of British rule in India, disappears." The final contingent of British soldiers left India in 1948.

India’s Big Exhibition in 1958 in New Delhi

Long before Vibrant Gujarat, there was ‘India 1958’, an exhibition set up to show the industrial and technical progress made by India since Independence. The newsreel captures behind-the-scene grunt work before the inauguration of the exhibition and focuses more on the tardiness in the preparations as the commentator takes a dig at the work culture of Indians.

Reita Faria wins Miss World

The 16th edition of Miss World at the Lyceum Ballroom in London was the one where Reita Faria, went on to becomes the first Indian to be crowned Miss World. The newsreel shows the 23-year old MBBS student sashaying in a swimsuit with 15 other finalists. The newsreel lingers on the faces of the judges, even as the commentator sympathises with the hard work that the judges have at hand. The commentator also seems to find that Faria wearing a swimsuit is more noteworthy than the fact that she was the first Indian to win the title.

India kicks off industrialization drive with Durgapur steel plant

Back in the day when West Bengal was still considered an industrial hub, India kicked off its industrialization drive in Durgapur. The Durgapur steel plant was set up in the late 50s as part of a British consortium. Set up at a cost of 100 million pounds, it generated 30,000 jobs, and was the largest operation the British industry undertook on foreign shores. The country’s first president Rajendra Prasad symbolically pushed the lever to set the plant in motion. At an initial capacity of 1 million, the plant became central to India’s industrialization push.

Evangelist Billy Graham comes to India

A video of American Christian evangelist Billy Graham’s visit to India with his wife in 1956. He steps out of the aircraft doing a customary namaste to greet his hosts. He’s later shown delivering a speech to about a 1000 people, according to the video’s description.

The Shah of Iran in India

The video shows the Shah of Iran and Queen Soraya being welcomed during their state visit to India in 1956. They were to stay in the country for three weeks.

The Indo-Pak War of 1965

The video shows the devastation caused in Peshawar during the India-Pakistan war of 1965. People point to bloodstains on walls and the loss of property in their homes in places like Sialkot and Jurian. Pakistani forces walk in to witness the misery and the tankers etc left behind by Indian forces after the bombing. It’s interesting that the village doesn’t look particularly ‘Pakistani.’ It could pass off as any rural area in India.

A news digest for the times

This is an interesting capsule of several events around that time: a fundraiser organised at the Government House in Bombay for the soldiers who injured during the war; Chevrolet Fire engines presented to the city of Calcutta as a token of appreciation for the Indian contribution to the war by I.A. Hill, President of the American Women’s Club. M.A. Jinnah the president of the Muslim League visited the city of Jalandhar for the 6th year celebration of the All Indian Muslim students federation at the Burlton Park (now Gandhi Stadium). He also inaugurated the Islamia College.

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