Photos & text: Debashree Mukherjee, Rahaab Allana & Georg Wirsching

These images are from the exhibition a Cinematic Imgination: Josef Wirsching And The Bombay Talkies. The show, hosted bvy the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts, is part of the ongoing Serendipity Art Festival in Goa. This exhibition showcases, for the very first time, a sampling of rare, original photographs and digital reprints of early Indian cinema from the Wirsching Archive. The selection for the Serendipity Arts Festival comprises behind-the-scenes photographs of cast and crew, production stills, and publicity images. These photographs, shot primarily on 35mm film with a Leica camera between the 1920s-60s, give us unprecedented access to the aesthetic decisions, creative communities, and cross-cultural exchanges that were vital to filmmaking in late colonial India.

The acclaimed production studio, Bombay Talkies, played a major role in defining the form of mainstream film in India. This exhibition foregrounds the critical role of German technicians and interwar image-making practices in the history of Indian cinema.

A dynamic group of cosmopolitan artists—the actor and producer Himansu Rai, director Franz Osten, and cinematographer Josef Wirsching—met in Munich and collaborated on the classic silent film, Light of Asia (1925), which was shot in India. During the dramatic rise of the Nazi party in Germany, Osten and Wirsching decided to accept Himansu Rai’s offer to help start up a talkie studio in Bombay. Together, this creative Indo-German team produced some of the most iconic musical films of the era, such as Jawani ki Hawa (1935) and Achhut Kanya (1936), which dealt with urgent social reform and nationalist issues of day.

The exhibition is on view till 22 December at Adil Shah Palace, Panaji, Goa