Shiraz: A Romance of India [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (25th February 2018).
The Film

"Shiraz: A Romance of India" (1928)

Selima (played by Enakshi Rama Rau) and Shiraz (played by Himansu Rai) are sister and brother, though not by blood. Selima was found alone in the middle of the desert by Shiraz' father on his way home from trading, in which the toddler was the only survivor of a caravan ambush. He takes her to his village, and making sure his young son to take care of the girl as an older brother. As they enter adulthood, Shiraz starts to develop feelings for Selima, but the feeling is not mutual. She sees him as family and not as a romantic figure, which breaks his heart but he continues to show his feeling of respect and admiration for her. One day a group of slave traders enter the village and kinap Selima, with the intention of selling her to a rich buyer in the city. Shiraz does everything he can to find her, but her life as a slave is a short one at most. The Emperor Shah Jehan (played by Charu Roy) falls in love with her, and in this case her feeling towards him slowly becomes mutual. While her life continues in harmony with wealth and happiness, her heart is still conflicted with her past and present emotions colliding...

In 1928 there was no Indian cinema. There were no film studios and no industry. There were travelogues or shorts that were shot by Europeans but from an entertainment perspective it was yet to come. In order to establish the industry, producer Himansu Rai and playwright Niranjan Pal looked to Europe to find the financing and the craftsmanship to set the wheels in motion. In 1925 Rai produced "The Light of Asia" with German director Franz Osten, featuring an all Indian cast with an Indian/German crew. The collaboration continued with "Shiraz" which featured Ozten directing again, with Rai producing and also starring in the production. Crew from Germany as well as the United Kingdom helped with the production. Victor Peers was the assistant director and Henry Harris was one of the cinematographers, both from the UK. While Emil Schünemann was the other cinematographer, from Germany. The international coproduction was an ambitious production as the entire film had to be shot on location in villages, in palaces, in crowded streets - places that were not used to film productions at all and limited resources.

For the story, it was a take that all Indians would know - the story of Mumtaz Mahal - her life and death and the eventual construction of the Taj Mahal in her memory. For the standpoint of a 1928 Indian audience, it would be fairly easy to introduce cinema through a story that most people would know about, although the film does take its liberties with the actual story. Being orphaned as a child, the story of the brother, the slave becoming an empress, these are all additions by Pal for the original stageplay of "Shiraz". In actuality, Mumtaz was of noble Persian descent, was well educated, fluent in Hindi, Arabic, as well as her mother tongue, and was extremely happy with her marriage to Shah Jahan at the age of 19. They had 14 children in their 19 years of marriage, and it was during childbirth of the 14th child that took her life at the age of 38. The story of "Shiraz" does not go into the years of happiness she had in marriage but instead looks at the angle of the poor brother as well and the struggles he would go through to find eventual inner peace. Some may find it sacrilege to make an alternate side of history to one of the most romanticized relationships in history, but if a story structure was to be made of a couple's happiness through the years and little drama, there would not be much else to say cinematically. By having the conflicting hearts and the emotional grip, it sets the alternate story into a stylized romantic tale.

Shot and captured through the eyes of a German and British crew, "Shiraz" aims to capture the visual splendor of India. The seventeenth century garments, the grand architecture, the rituals and habits, as well as the elements of nature. These are not constructed sets or matte paintings but actual locations filmed around India with real Indian performers on screen. For Indians it was a chance to see their own culture's spectacle on screen. For international audiences it was a chance to see an exotic tale from an exotic land far away from their own with complete authenticity. The film would go on to a further relationship with Rai and director Osten, collaborating on "A Throw of Dice" in 1929. Rai would eventually set up the Bombay Talkies studio to establish Indian cinema further, and Osten would further his career by directing over a dozen films in Hindi even though he could not speak the language at all. It is strange to say one of the fathers of Indian cinema was actually German, and one that was affiliated with the Nazi party as well, but the roots are there and the visuals are clear. Bollywood cinema is all about drama and spectacle, and "Shiraz" certainly holds a candle to being one of its great ancestors.

In late 2017, the BFI unveiled a restored edition of "Shiraz" theatrically. The 15-month restoration project introduced the film to a new audience with its newly restored picture as well as a newly composed music score by Anoushka Shankar, with a Blu-ray and DVD scheduled a few months later in February 2018.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray which can play back on any Blu-ray player worldwide


The BFI presents the film in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec, in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The film was restored and remastered by the BFI based on the British version of the film - the only surviving version as the German and Indian versions are lost. The original negative and a fine-grain master positive were both used for the restoration, with the negative being the base and for scenes too damaged the secondary source was used for replacements. Both elements were scanned at 4K, and the picture was restored. Scratches and specs were removed, shots that were wobbly were stabilized, the black and white photography was balanced for grey levels to be matched between each shot. The original English intertitles were also scanned and graded for better stability and legibility as they looked extremely weak in the original elements. The finished restoration looks absolutely stunning. Details on closeups, architecture, landscapes, and various scenery are well defined, damage is minimized, and the black and white photography look excellent. There are of course minor scratches and specs visible if looked extremely carefully, but considering this is a 90 year old film and almost all Indian silent films are completely lost, this 15-month restoration project is much more than a miracle.

The film's runtime on the disc is 105:48.

Note the following screenshots are taken from the standard definition DVD copy and not from the Blu-ray


Music DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Music LPCM 2.0 stereo

Famed sitarist Anoushka Shankar was commissioned to compose a new soundtrack for the silent film, which was her first film score. Incorporating traditional instrumentation that would have been fitting for the seventeenth century environment, early twentieth century rhythms, as well as modern experimentation, Shankar's Indian music based score is a great addition to the visuals. While much of Indian classical takes its inspiration from improvisation, the new score had to be composed in accordance to the moving images of the film - the movements of the actors, the emotional theme of the scenes, all were carefully directed to fit each scene. The score features Indian instruments such as the sitar, tabla, and kanjira, it also incorporates western instruments such as pianos and violins as well as Moog synthesizers for a bit of modern approach. The 5.1 track spreads the music out in the front, speakers while the rears are used for ambient surrounds. It is a very well balanced track and never takes center stage above the visuals. The 2.0 stereo track is a mixdown of the 5.1 track and it is equally clear, though lacking the depth of the 5.1 soundscape.

There are English Intertitles for the film. As they have been restored the words are very easy to read with no errors. In one of the screenshots above is an example of an intertitle seen in the film.


The BFI's release of "Shiraz" is a dual format Blu-ray+DVD release, with the film and extras presented on the Blu-ray disc and repeated on a region 0 PAL encoded DVD.

DISC ONE (Blu-ray)

"Restoration Demonstration" featurette (2:59)
This short featurette has visual comparisons of before and after. There is no sound and no text except for the film's intertltles. The images may explain for themselves, but it would have been better to have some interviews or some additional explanation on the restoration process.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1

"Temples of India" 1938 documentary short (10:28)
This Technicolor short film made by the World Window production company was a travelogue shot by famed cinematographer Jack Cardiff on location in India. There are ceremonial rituals, dances, shots of architecture, the people, and of course the Taj Mahal. Most of the narration showcases Hinduism, though it seemingly looks at the religion like it's something weird and foreign rather than something of utmost respect. The film has its scratches and specs in the image and pops and hisses in the audio, but still very watchable.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"Musical Instruments of India" 1944 public information film (12:00)
This 1944 black and white short was produced by the Information Films of India to showcase the many traditional musical instruments that make Indian music so distinctive. There is narration explaining the different instruments, followed by performances by musicians for each. There are scratches and specs on the image though on the more positive side the audio sounds fairly good.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

The extras have a "Play All" function with a total runtime of 25:28.

The film and the extras are repeated on the region 0 PAL DVD.

Included are essays, stills, credits, and technical information. The first essay is "Cross-border Appeal" by BFI silent film curator Bryony Dixon which discusses about the exotic angle of the film as well as some of the production details. Second is "Franz Osten and the 'Invention' of Hindi Film" by author Gautam Chintamani. Osten might not be the most well known director from Germany nor is he much mentioned with Indian cinema, and the essay discusses about his importance as well as the negative image of the Nazi party affiliation and how he left the film industry in his later years. Next is "Faith and Creation: Anoushka Shankar on Her Score for Shiraz" by journalist and filmmaker Simon Broughton which chronicles the making of the new score. There is also a 1-page biography for Anoushka Shankar, notes on the restoration, notes on the special features, and acknowledgements.

The trailer has not been included on the Blu-ray or DVD. Below is the BFI trailer for the restored film, courtesy of the BFI.

While the restoration featurette was welcome to have, it could have been so much more as there was no narration or text information, This short news clip from AFP shows the preservation and restoration of "Shiraz" at the BFI National Archive, courtesy of AFP News Agency.


"Shiraz: A Romance of India" is one of the oldest and most important Indian films ever made, and the BFI restored release showcases the beauty and magic of silent cinema with an exotic touch. The BFI Blu-ray and DVD set has a magnificent restoration transfer, excellent audio, and good supplements, making the release recommended.

The Film: B+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: A-


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