KOLKATA: Miracles do happen and it happened with B&S too! A few months before the “Nirvana” of Lord Ramkrishna Paramhansa in 1886, A. C. Daw, an apprentice photographer of B&S, visited Dakshineshwar’s Kali Temple in Kolkata to take photographs of the saint.
Ramkrishna was unwilling, but Vivekananda insisted for a photo-session. Enthusiastic Daw took one photograph of Ramkrishna and went back to Esplanade’s office of B&S to develop it. But the glass-negative fell from his hands. Strangely, a semi-circle was created around the Saint’s head. Lo, it looked like a halo! Call it a miracle…………?
B&S, as the over 151-years old Bourne and Shepherd of Kolkata commonly know, is India’s oldest repository of photographs of all kinds. This is the best place to know how people wore their dresses a century and half back, how nautch girls looked and how kings and Nawabs of India dressed themselves in the olden days.
The B&S is integrally interwoven with the Indian film industry. At a juncture when the Indian film industry has entered its 104th years, it is very interesting to know that such film makers like Satyajit Roy stepped into this heritage B &S’s building to research on the dresses that Muslim Nawabs and Zaminders wore in Oudh at the time of “Ghadar”—the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Through the photographs preserved at B&S, he devised the dress materials for the royal characters of “Shatranj Ke Khiladi” (1977).
Exactly 35-years later, his son Sandip Roy also came at this “time capsule” of India’s photographic-past to make a tryst with what Kolkata was in the Europeans days to shoot his Bengali thriller Gorosthaney Sabdhan (Take Care at a Burial Ground): based on the famous fiction of his father.
Sandeep knew Kolkata of the past, scenic details for that film, from the “photographic frames” taken by photographers of B&S in 1880 from the top of the Ochterlony Monument located in Kolkata’s very famous Maidan.
Entering Into A Time Capsure
B&S, a capsule where time stands imprisoned and frozen, captured memorable moments for the last 151-years. B&S’s red brick made Victorian Era building in Kolkata’s very heart – Esplanade – also was visited by Rabindra Nath Tagore and all others connected with the Bengali renaissance.
Celebrities of all hues throng here regularly to make trysts with the days of East India Company, colonial times of British Raj, molten-days of Rajas-Sultans-Maharajas-Nawabs, Nautch girls, faqirs and Sadhus, dreaded Thugs, fascinating snake-charmers and everything of Hindustan of yester era!!!
Famous Bengali novelist Sunil Gangopadhyaya regularly visited B&S to write his Sei Momoi: “Those Days……” Sunil needed references of the days of the Bengal’s colonial past— those intoxicating days of Jalsaghars where Bengali Babus held regular “Jalsa” to enjoy dances and classical music of Tawaifs blended with wine and intoxicating scents of Ketaki-Gulab-Juhi-Chameli to create the atmosphere of a perfect “Sham-e-Mehfil”.
Anybody working on a novel or doing a commercial film of those-times, have to come here to watch photographs to follow the styles of dress, hair, buildings, interior decoration, designs of ornaments, weaponry and of utensils and cutleries.
If you are making a film on Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Oudh, you possibly cannot create a town-scene of Cawnpore (Kanpur) of those days, without looking at the photographic collections treasured at B&S.
Indian Film Industry Grew Up In the Lap of B&S
In 1900 –117-years ago – B&S first launched its processing laboratory in association with Mumbai’s Clifton & Company. Having branches in Mumbai, Simla, Agra, Lahore and Kolkata, it showed silent-era films also by partnering with Barker Motion Picture Company, Fox Films and International Newsreel Corporations.
Making a tryst with Pundalik, the country’s first fiction-film, B&S made a bold presence in the celluloid world of Mumbai and Kolkata. All photographic instruments for Pundalik’s making were supplied by it. On May 18, 1912, Pundalik was screened at Coronation Cinematography in Mumbai.
Witnessing Hindustan’s Transfer of Capital
On questioning what was the first political event of India, most of Hindustanis may fail to answer but it was the shift of capital from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911. Patankar and Hiralal Sen of B&S were first to shoot scenes of the Delhi Durbar.
Fire Tragedy Shattered the B&S Legacy in Kolkata
On February 6, 1991, a fire destroyed B&S’s treasure trove! It was global news! All glass negatives, from 1848 till 1945, were destroyed. This was India’s biggest photographic loss!!
Birth of B&S is very interesting. In 1863, Samuel Bourne and William Howard began their photographic business under the banner of Howard and Bourne in Simla. That was also the time when Charles Shepherd and Arthur Robertson launched their ventures in Agra as Shepherd and Robertson.
Robertson, however, came to the Imperial Capital Calcutta and Howard, Bourne and Shepherd was born. This became Bourne & Shepherd’s in 1866.
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