Biren Das Sharma

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over two years

Biren Das Sharma completed his M.A. at Calcutta University. He has a lot of experience teaching cinema including designing and coordinating courses and workshops. He has also worked as a freelance film critic and has contributed to various film society journals. He began his research in Indian cinema almost ten years ago. His research confirmed his earlier belief that invaluable material pertaining to Indian cinema has never been brought into critical view in a serious and sustained way.

The problem may have its roots, according to Das Sharma, in issues pertaining to the historiography of Indian cinema. Indian popular cinema may not itself have fared too well in dealing with ground realities of the nation in a meaningfully artistic way; however, Indian historians equally ignore an important social and cultural phenomenon. Popular cinema’s history of production, distribution, exhibition, consumption, and control provide unusual and significant insight into the nation’s cultural psyche.

National Film Archives of India (NFAI) selected films for preservation without well-defined norms, and arbitrarily destroyed much of the cinema of this country by default. In addition, the Indian film industry failed to maintain relevant records.

Among the documents collected or traced by Mr. Sharma are government records from colonial times, including confidential letters of Viceroys, Secretaries of State and other officials, and police and military documents and dispatches. Later material includes parliamentary debates, minutes of legislative councils and 'notes' forwarded by different ministries, official evidence given by film people and memoranda submitted by different trade bodies.

Das Sharma has also traced film projects submitted for support and sanction; published and unpublished autobiographies; top secret documents, reports of different film inquiry committees, censorship documents and correspondence between the government and trade representatives. More controversial references include secret government files on individuals and film projects, documents on preventive measures other than censorship taken by the government, documents on colonial film policy and articles dealing with questions of nationalism, ethics and 'moral hygiene'.

This grant will enable Mr. Sharma to travel to existing archives, libraries, and private collections in the country to continue his research and complete his selection of material. New and past sources will be cross-referenced. Documents eventually selected will be organized in the form of an annotated sourcebook, which will open up new areas of research to film scholars, offer fresh perspectives, and displace old ideas and misconceptions about Indian cinema.