A Cinematic Imagination: Josef Wirsching and the Bombay Talkies

Special Project

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 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, established by Himanshu Rai in 1934. This exhibition foregrounds the critical role of German technicians and interwar image-making practices in the history of Indian cinema, presenting some of the best-known actors and technicians from Devika Rani, Ashok Kumar and Leela Chitnis, to Jairaj, Hansa Wadkar, and Dilip Kumar. The exhibition is a tribute to one of the forgotten pioneers of Indian cinema, the cinematographer Josef Wirsching.

Rahaab Allana is the curator/publisher of the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts in New Delhi, and a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society in London. He has curated several exhibits, edited and contributed to national and international publications, and worked closely in museums and galleries such as The Brunei Gallery (London), Rencontres d’Arles (Espace Van Gogh), and the Rubin Museum (NY), among others. He also teaches an annual diploma course on the history of photography at Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai.

Rahaab is the Founding Editor of PIX, one of India’s first theme-based photography quarterlies, and is the author of Filmi Jagat: Shared Universe of Early Hindi Cinema.

Georg Wirsching is an artist, photographer, and illustrator with a bachelor’s degree in Visual Communications from Loyola College, Chennai. He is the current CEO and creative head of Wirsching Enterprises, a family-run firm managing the Wirsching Archive, which consists of photographic negatives and prints spanning his grandfather Josef Wirsching’s life and work in German and Indian cinema between the mid 1920’s and late 1960’s.

Georg also teaches art and design to a growing group of young students at The Paradise School, a privately run Cambridge-affiliated institution based in Goa, India.

Debashree Mukherjee is Assistant Professor of South Asian film and visual cultures at Columbia University in New York. Her current book project, Parallel Action: Bombay Cinema and the Practice of Modernity, presents a cultural history of early Bombay cinema (1920s-1940s) that privileges material practice, circuits of work, and technologies of production, and draws inspiration from her own experience of working in Mumbai’s film and television industries in the early 2000s. Debashree has published widely, curated exhibitions on film ephemera, and is a core editor of the peer-reviewed journal BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies.

Sudeep Chaudhuri is a graphic designer, scenographer, and educator. He graduated from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and established the design studio OH! in 2002. Based in New Delhi, Sudeep likes to experiment and develop narratives across disciplines.