Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The British Empire In Colour: A Tryst With Destiny

In this visually captivating instalment of ‘The British Empire in Colour’, we evoke the splendour and arrogance of British imperial rule in India. By 1911, educated elites within the country were already agitating for increased political rights and representation, and an end to foreign occupation. Seemingly oblivious to the gathering winds of change, British rulers held the ‘Delhi Durbar’ in order to commemorate the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary as Emperor and Empress of India.

The mass assembly, which was attended by kings, princes and the landed gentry, was one of the first events to be captured using the Kinemacolor process. Filmmaker Charles Urban and a team of cameramen filmed the entire royal visit in colour; the finished product was exhibited at the Scala Theatre in London in February 1912. The show lasted over two hours, during which the stage was transformed into a vast mock-up of the Taj Mahal.

Following the First World War, the Indian independence movement gathered speed and strength. Between 1918 and 1922, a series of non-violent civil disobedience campaigns orchestrated by Nehru and Gandhi’s Indian National Congress, sent shockwaves through the British Raj. Although the Second World War briefly united the Britain’s colonies against the more immediate menace of Nazi expansionism, victory spelt the beginning of the end for the empire.

In the immediate post-war period, British power was eclipsed by the diplomatic and military might of a reinvigorated, and staunchly anti-imperialist, USA. On 15 August 1947, India achieved its independence; Nehru became the country’s first Prime Minister. In a rapidly changing world political climate, the lumbering imperial dinosaur was left bewildered and fearful for its future.


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