Bhagwan Das Garga was born on 14 November, 1924. He was enrolled to study for a medical career, but this pursuit was interrupted by the occasion of the Quit India Movement in 1942. He decided, around 1943, at the behest of K.A. Abbas, to devote himself to a career in the arts. This is also when he wrote his first piece as a writer on film for Abbas’ publication, Sargam. He then studied Cinematography at St. Xavier’s College, Bombay (Mumbai), later working under noted Indian film director and auteur, V. Shantaram. He started his career as a documentary filmmaker with Storm Over Kashmir (1948), before participating in a diverse set of filmic projects and settings across Europe. He also contributed as Asst. Director to Abbas’ Indo-Soviet co-production film, Pardesi (1957) at Mosfilm Studios in Moscow. Upon his return to India, he helped found the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) in 1964. He was also a frequent visiting lecturer at the then-newly founded Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), alongwith being a member at the Film Advisory Board.
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Website Manager: Himanshu Sharma
Website Architect: Suraj Prasad
Project Curator: Anuj Malhotra
The Garga Archives is a project conceptualised by Lightcube, an acclaimed film collective from New Delhi which mobilises film screenings, publishes literature on film and also conducts The Dhenuki Cinema Project, a cinema-based outreach programme that mobilises rural communities across India.
He wrote and contributed to various leading cinema journals across India (Montage, Cinevision, Madhyam) and abroad (the most prominent of these, Cahiers du Cinema, Revue du Cinema and Sight & Sound – for each of which, he acted as a Correspondent). He also participated extensively in the effort to compile Encyclopaedia Americana and also, the encyclopedia of Soviet Film. Around this time, he availed of an opportunity to conduct extensive research on Indian cinema in order to produce a film anthology to commemorate its golden jubilee, 50 Years of Indian Cinema (1963).
In 1967, he was appointed one of the experts on the UNESCO Committee of the History of World Cinema. This led then to the legendary 1969 exhibition – the first of its kind in Cinematheque Francaise – where he helped Henri Langlois organize a retrospective of the history of Indian cinema. In latter years, he preserved correspondence with Langlois and inherited from him a set of principles regarding the preservation of film that came ultimately to define his work. In subsequent years, Garga was invited by UNESCO to attend roundtable conferences on cinema and television in such venues and festivals as Mannheim, Venice, Beirut, Budapest, Montreal and Locarno. Garga preserved simultaneously a career as an active filmmaker in these years. In 1992, he shifted to Goa with Donnabelle (about whom, noted critic, journalist and the founder-editor of Biblio wrote, ' In his endeavours he has hugely benefited from the energy, drive and application of his wife Donnabelle. It is she who ensures that his passionate engagement with the Seventh Art does not ebb.'), his collaborator and wife, to embark on a career as a writer.
This resulted in the seminal, 1996 compilation, So Many Cinemas, which in its title and through its general scale, identifies the history of cinema in India as a plural, multi-tentacled, giant organism. This was followed by 2005’s Art of Cinema, a compilation of his writings that this present archive most closely resembles, and 2007’s From Raj to Swaraj: The History of Documentary Film in India, which won the National Film Award for Best Book on Cinema. He repeated this feat with 2011’s Silent Cinema in India: A Pictorial Journey.
B.D. Garga passed away on 18 July, 2011 in Patiala, Punjab.
The sequel to Silent Cinema in India, a book entitled, The Sunshine Years, about the history of the talkies and studio system in the country, is a work-in- progress.
Garga’s seven-decade long career resulted in close to fifty documentary films (an annotated list will be available on the website), a substantial body of work as a critic, close to five books on cinema, collaborations with noted national and international figures in film and culture, several national and international awards, and recognition, by a community of peers that includes such figures as Kevin Brownlow, as a figure whose work is especially relevant to film history.
The Garga Archives exists in order to set, as a useful precedent, an example of an active, alive personal archive. As an agency, Lightcube professes enormous faith in lived realities, anecdotal histories and individual narratives as units that are fundamental to the construction of a larger, overarching history. The Garga Archives, which exists as a testament to the life of a seminal, 20th-century cineaste, is an expression of this belief. It is the attempt of the Archives to identify B.D. Garga as a peculiar cipher, a mobile entity, an omnipresent, Zelig-figure, who exists at the intersection of diverse traditions of cinephilia from around the world. In his six-decade long career, which included efforts in journalism, production, preservation, criticism, exhibition and writing, Garga managed to nurture relationships and collaborations with instrumental figures of classical, Western cinephilia, government bureaucrats, private publishers, filmmakers from around the world and also, a set of global cultural purveyors. In Lightcube's conception, therefore, an Archive devoted to the life and work of Garga exists, as a corollary, also as a document of the set of systems and processes that helped cultivate film culture as we now know it in the first hundred years of cinema's history.
The Archives lays no claim to absolute authority or a complete resource. It exists as an evolving, shape-shifting, dynamic entity that is frayed at its ends. This is done with the deliberate purpose of allowing for an element of myth, of speculation, of fiction to seep in. Lightcube's belief is that it is through an active narrativisation of history that it can remain essential to a set of successive generations. To achieve this, Lightcube will publish over the next two years, in six cycles, a reservoir of articles, rare images, correspondences and films. The agency will hope to curate, alongside the present, available material, a set of conscious 'absences' - crevices or folds within which the reader may locate herself or himself within the story of Bhagwan Das Garga.
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