FAIR CITY OF UDAIPUR
This film is held by the BFI (ID: 169535).
General view from Maharajah's Palace, street scenes, the Temple of Juggernaut. Details of stone carving in the temple, market scene, sword manufacture, silversmith's wares, the Pichola Lake, ablutionary scenes, the Summer Palace on an island in the lake.
The Fair City of Udaipur formed part of the ‘Secrets of India’ series, produced by the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation in 1934. These educational geography films were the by-product of the company’s involvement in a filmed flight over Mount Everest, footage of which appeared as Wings Over Everest (1934) (Low, 2005, 61). Among the crew were the cameraman S. R. Bonnett and director Geoffrey Barkas, who were also responsible for The Fair City of Udaipur.Several…
The Fair City of Udaipur formed part of the ‘Secrets of India’ series, produced by the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation in 1934. These educational geography films were the by-product of the company’s involvement in a filmed flight over Mount Everest, footage of which appeared as Wings Over Everest (1934) (Low, 2005, 61). Among the crew were the cameraman S. R. Bonnett and director Geoffrey Barkas, who were also responsible for The Fair City of Udaipur.Several of the ‘Secrets of India’ series films were re-edited by Gaumont in 1937, when this documentary was re-issued as A Central Indian Town: Udaipur.
The city of Udaipur is in the state of Rajasthan in western India. It was founded by Maharana Udai Singh as the capital city of the Kingdom of Mewar following the fall of the former capital, Chittor, to Mughals in 1568. Udaipur is located in a mountainous region, which rendered the city safer from the attacks of mounted Mughal warriors. The kingdom nevertheless suffered continued attacks from its neighbours. During the early nineteenth century the Mewar rulers petitioned the British raj for protection. This was granted in 1818 when Udaipur was established as one of the Princely states of British India.
The Mewar family is the oldest royal family in the world, ultimately claiming descent from the sun god (Meininger, 2000, ix). They are pre-eminent among the Rajput clan of Indian Hindu princes. According to Barbara Ramusack their status was founded on two main points: first, they refused to give daughters in marriage to Muslim rulers; second, they chose death, rather than dishonour, when faced with defeat in battle (Ramusack, 2004, 18-19).
The ruling prince at the time that this film was made was Bhupal Singh Mewar. He succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of sixteen, and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. The Maharana was considered to be an enlightened ruler, and he was responsible for modernising the administration of the state (Meininger, 2000, 142). He was involved in the meetings leading up to the independence of India, and was at the forefront of leading the Rajput states into the new Indian Union (Meininger, 2000, 147).
Ramusack has nevertheless described Udapir as being ‘arguably the most conservative state in Rajputana’ (2004, 226). She recounts that during the inter-war period the state witnessed peasant protests, during which there were campaigns against ‘arbitrary taxes, cesses [taxes] , and the demand for begar [forced labour]’ (2004, 226). The Bhils, a tribal people classed as untouchables, were prominent in these disputes.
Udaipur is famous for its architecture and landscaping, its attractions including the City Palace, the Juggernaut (Jagdish) Temple, and Lake Pichola and its Lake Palace. The city was in a fairly dilapidated state during the mid-twentieth century but following independence it embraced a role as a tourist destination. The Lake Palace was restored and now operates as a luxury hotel. The city has subsequently served as the backdrop to many film and TV productions, including Octopussy, The Jewel in the Crown, Gandhi, as well as numerous Bollywood films.
The commentator of The Fair City of Udaipur invites the viewer to witness the ‘India of your dreams’. Two presumptions are made regarding the image of India that the spectator has in their minds. The first is of a city of exotic architecture: we witness the ‘elaborately carved’ Temple of Juggernaut; the ‘cool beauty’ of Lake Pichola; and the glory of the Summer Palace, which ‘gleams like a jewel on the bosom of the lake’. The second presumed…
The commentator of The Fair City of Udaipur invites the viewer to witness the ‘India of your dreams’. Two presumptions are made regarding the image of India that the spectator has in their minds. The first is of a city of exotic architecture: we witness the ‘elaborately carved’ Temple of Juggernaut; the ‘cool beauty’ of Lake Pichola; and the glory of the Summer Palace, which ‘gleams like a jewel on the bosom of the lake’. The second presumed image is of a land of impoverished locals. The Maharana of Udaipur approved this film, and it climaxes by stating that ‘the descendent of the sun god could find no fairer dwelling place under the sun’; however, at no point is the Prince present in the picture. Instead, we get to see a city that is occupied by street traders, beggars, and ‘a race of aborigines’.
The film portrays these two elements in contrasting manners. The commentary is effusive about the architectural beauty of the city. Correspondingly, the cameraman adopts positions that help to portray the buildings in their full majesty. They are sometimes shot from below looking upwards, or they are carefully framed by filming through elaborately carved windows or archways. In contrast, he commonly films the locals from eye level, or even looks down on them. The contrast between the impoverished locals and these splendid buildings is underlined in the commentary. We are informed that the temple was not made by those who are now present, but by ‘craftsmen of long ago’. Udaipur is represented as a city of contrasts - ‘rich and poor, humble and mighty’ – the riches are represented by buildings and the poverty by the people.
The locals are also pictured among their own ‘tangled streets’ where they undertake their ‘cottage-door industries’. Here the commentary occasionally becomes condescending, most notably in its treatment of a money-lender who is shown performing his business in the open air. Ironic references are made to his ‘imposing premises’, his ‘strong-room’ and his ‘big deal[s]’. The commentator is less mirthful in his treatment of the Bhils. Several women of the tribe are pictured bringing crops to market. The camerawork and the commentary pay attention to their clothing and jewellery, and the viewer is informed that ‘the many anklets worn by this woman are not a sign of vanity, but of safety first – they protect her against snake bite while working in the fields’. There is no information, however, about the Bhil people’s social status or about the recent protests in which they had been involved.
The film is more interested in providing us with the images of Udaipur than it is in providing any background history. There is some information regarding the fighting traditions of the Mewar people and about the Maharana’s status among adherents of the Hindu faith, but this is far as it goes. The information about the Maharana is immediately followed by the main emphasis of the film: ‘no city could be more lovely’. It should be admitted, however, that this loveliness is portrayed effectively. The camerawork is sophisticated and the film is well edited and structured. The film closes with a scene that neatly echoes its beginning; and the Bhils can be witnessed in a street scene which prefigures the focus upon the women later on in the documentary. The filmmakers could be criticised for their over-employment of screen wipes and dissolves, which now appear dated. The music on the soundtrack has also aged poorly: Robin Baker argues that it ‘grates slightly with its multi-purpose somewhere-east-of-Suez orientalism’ (Baker). It does however effectively punctuate each scene.
The film first states of Udaipur that ‘little is heard of it in the outside world’; however, this meditation upon the charms of the city foreshadows Udaipur’s later manifestation as a tourist’s dream.
Richard Osborne (August 2009)
Baker, Robin, The Fair City of Udaipur, Mediatheque, BFI, London.
Low, Rachael, History of British Film: Volume Six (London: Routledge, 2005).
Meininger, Irmgard, The Kingdom of Mewar (New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 2000).
Ramusack, Barbara, N., The Indian Princes and Their States (Cambridge: CUP, 2004).
- FAIR CITY OF UDAIPUR
- Series Title:
- SECRETS OF INDIA
- Running Time:
- 9 minutes
- Film Gauge (Format):
- 35mm Film
- 800 ft
- Production Countries:
- Great Britain
- BARKAS, Geoffrey
- BONNETT, S.R.
- Production Company
- Gaumont-British Picture Corporation