Himansu Rai was from a wealthy Bengali family and studied law in London, where he met the playwright Niranjan Pal and acted in his play, The Goddess. Rai was determined to set up an Indian film company with global ambitions, and lobbied tirelessly for funds to make this a reality. His career as a producer expertly navigated the risk of censorship by British authorities and he enjoyed considerable success with the silent trilogy of Light of Asia, Shiraz and A Throw of the Dice all released under the banner of Rai’s Great Eastern Indian Corporation. In 1934, as the sound era dawned, he finally founded the company he had long dreamed of, Bombay Talkies, building it up in the years before his death in 1940, aged just 48.
Franz Osten was a German director and brother of Peter Ostermayer, head of Emelka studios in Munich. The brothers had been in film since 1911, first touring a film show before turning to production. It was through Emelka that the Indian/German/British co-production deal for the trilogy was struck. Osten would direct the first of the three, Light of Asia, as well as Shiraz and A Throw of The Dice (the last of which as co-director alongside Rai). He would continue to work with Rai at Bombay Talkies into the 1930s.
Producers British Instructional Films also contributed several key technical staff. Henry Harris was credited as cameraman alongside Emil Schünemann. There is no record of how they divided the work, but it seems likely that the more experienced Schünemann (who had shot the first part of Fritz Lang's Die Spinnen) would have been the main director of photography. Harris would later specialise in special effects in a long, distinguished career including credits on Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death and "I Know Where I’m Going!". Victor Albert Peers, credited as assistant director, went on to become a production manager, working with Hitchcock on Rope and Under Capricorn. He subsequently became general manager of Granada Television. William A. Burton, who adapted Pal’s play, was an English screenwriter who had worked in Hollywood before returning in the late-1920s to join British Instructional.
About the restoration by Kieron Webb, Film Conservation Manager, BFI National Archive
The restoration of Shiraz is based on the British version of a multi-national co-production. The German and Indian versions appear to be lost and an international search of other film archives revealed elements that derive from this British version distributed by Pro Patria.
Once we determined that the original and best elements are preserved at the BFI National Archive, those copies were assessed jointly for the relative condition and quality of every shot. The original camera negative was used as the source for approximately half the film, with damaged and decomposed shots substituted from a preservation master fine-grain positive. Both these sources were scanned at 4K at the Archive’s Conservation Centre, with the fragile negative requiring fastidious wet-gate scanning to minimise the heavy scratching and wear.
Intertitles are a crucial feature of silent cinema. Unfortunately in this case, the intertitles in the original negative were poorly exposed and duplicated, affecting the definition of the text. These characteristics were accentuated in the fine-grain positive due to inappropriate printing. All intertitles were therefore rescanned from the original negative and rendered with sympathetic digital-imaging tools.
Brought together in restoration, from the variety of techniques used in 4K archival scanning and through image-repair artistry and balanced picture grading, the best representation of this film has been achieved from a mixture of its original and later copies. All film copies continue to be preserved in the sub-zero environment of the BFI National Archive’s Master Film Store, and the new data masters will be kept with the Digital Preservation Infrastructure.