Directed by Franz Osten
UK-Germany-India / 1928 / 105 mins / Cert U
Silent with music and English intertitles
A BFI National Archive Restoration With Himansu Rai, Enakshi Rama Rau, Charu Roy, Seeta Devi
Featuring a specially commissioned score by Anoushka Shankar

The film has been meticulously restored by the BFI National Archive and has a specially commissioned new score by multi Grammy-nominated contemporary Indian composer and sitar player Anoushka Shankar; her first full-length film score. Anoushka and her orchestral ensemble received a huge standing ovation when they performed the score live at the LFF.  

Based on a play by Niranjan Pal, and directed by the German director Franz Osten, this sumptuous romance imagines the love story of the 17th century princess (Mumtaz Mahal) who inspired the building of the world’s most beautiful monument to love, the Taj Mahal. Shot entirely on location in India, with an all-Indian cast of thousands, it features beautiful photography, lavish costumes and gorgeous settings. Two infamous passionate kisses that occur in the film are even a surprise for modern audiences, and are really quite extraordinary for Indian cinema of the period.  

This ground breaking Indian/British/German co-production was the idea of its charismatic producer Himansu Rai, who also plays the lead. Shiraz is a rarity; a surviving, sophisticated silent feature film made outside the major film producing nations of the west at the time. Rai plays Shiraz, the son of a humble village potter, who, when his childhood sweetheart Selima (Enakshi Rama Rau) is kidnapped and sold by slave traders to Prince Khurram (Charu Roy), follows her to Agra, intent on protecting her. Selima catches the eye of the prince, but finds a bitter rival in Dalia (Seeta Devi), an ambitious favourite from his harem. Shiraz, meanwhile, is left pining from the sidelines as events unfold.  

The restoration of Shiraz has been based on the only surviving British version of the film; German and Indian versions appear to be lost. The BFI, a world leader in film preservation and restoration, holds the original negative material of the film in the BFI National Archive. Once the new 4K scan had been made, extensive grading and clean-up processes took place before digital elements were produced for screening.

The BFI commissioned Anoushka Shankar to compose a new score to accompany the film. Deeply rooted in the Indian classical music tradition, Anoushka studied exclusively from childhood under her father and guru, the late Ravi Shankar (whose own film credits included Gandhi and Pather Panchali).  She made her professional debut as a classical sitarist at the age of 13 since when she has performed with many of the world’s leading orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, London Philharmonic and New York Philharmonic Orchestras.  With her own ensemble, she has toured extensively throughout Europe, Asia and the USA performing works featured on her celebrated albums including Rise (EMI), Traveller (DG) and Traces of You (DG).  Anoushka’s artistic output increasingly seeks to reflect her impassioned support of women’s rights and social justice and her most recently released album, Land of Gold (DG), was written in response to the humanitarian crisis of displaced people.   Land of Gold – which has earned her a sixth Grammy® nomination – continues to tour to many major concert venues and festivals around the world with upcoming tours to Australia/New Zealand (WOMAD), Asia, the US and South America.

Anoushka was very aware of the musical choices that needed to be made in composing the score. “I could try and be faithful to the period it is set in, the period it was made, or the period I’m writing in today” she explains. “And in the end, it’s a mixture of all those things. I try and keep a balance between moments in the film where it feels appropriate to stay quite authentic and allow the Indian instruments to play in a traditional way. But elsewhere I want it to be more of a film experience and to make the music more immersive so people become more involved in the film. This means a rich, broad sound palette with lower, deeper tones than existed for Indian instruments at the time the story is set.”

Shiraz was premiered as a highlight of the BFI’s contribution to UK/India 2017 Year of Culture, a year-long celebration of the long-standing relationship between India and the UK led by the British Council, which has seen a vast programme of cultural exchange and activity take place in cities across both countries. It included an extensive eight month programme of classic and contemporary Indian cinema at BFI Southbank.  

During November 2017, the British Council and the BFI took Shiraz on tour to four Indian cities, Hyderabad, Kolkata, New Delhi and Mumbai, accompanied by a live performance of the score by Anoushka Shankar. The film was sold out and received a standing ovation at every show; a testament to the significance of its restoration and revival, and the unique opportunity for Indian audiences to see it.  

About the BFI National Archive

The BFI National Archive was founded in 1935 and has grown to become the one of the largest and most important collections of film and television in the world with over 180,000 films and 750,000 television programmes. For over 80 years the BFI has been an international leader in film preservation and guardian of Britain’s unparalleled film and TV heritage. The BFI is an innovator in presenting films to audiences in new and dynamic ways, from cinemas to film festivals, outdoor events to online video-on-demand. At the heart of all its activities is the BFI’s central aim to ensure that everyone in the UK has access to the widest possible range of film and their own film heritage. That heritage includes all-time great British directors Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean and Powell and Pressburger; and the rich vein of documentary filmmaking, in which Britain led the world, including the lyrical work of Humphrey Jennings. The archive also boasts a significant Special Collections of filmmakers’ papers as well as extensive stills, posters and production and costume designs along with original scripts, press books and related ephemera.  

Expert teams undertake the time-consuming and complex task of restoring films at the BFI John Paul Getty Jr Conservation Centre in Hertfordshire. The BFI’s most precious film materials are kept in optimum conditions in the world-leading Master Film Store in Warwickshire.