This film is held by the BFI (ID: 20538).


The Calcutta waterfront viewed from a vessel moving up the Ganges, showing pilgrims descending into the water, dhows and rafts.



The Warwick Film Catalogue from 1901 contains a listing for Panorama of Calcutta, India, from the River Ganges. ‘This is’, it began, ‘perhaps one of the most novel and picturesque views ever photographed, owing to the difficulties experienced in obtaining life-motion pictures in this far distant country, which make this view doubly interesting and valuable’ (Warwick Film Catalogue, 1901, 5260a). Although one of the first films made in India, little is known of its production history. Denis Gifford credits the film to John (‘Mad Jack’) Benett-Stanford, who had recorded the only film of the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 and who, in October 1899, went to South Africa to film footage of the Boer War for the Warwick Trading Company. However, biographies of Benett-Stanford fail to mention any trip to India, while other references to the film mention only an ‘unknown foreign cameraman’ (Fulton, 2006, Cinema Vision India, 1980, 104). Panorama of Calcutta was, though, evidently one of a series of titles filmed for Warwick during this trip. For example, listed above Panorama of Calcutta in the catalogue was ‘Arrival of Train at Station, Calcutta, India’, which, as with Panorama of Calcutta, was described and advertised as differing sharply from the images familiar to British viewers. The catalogue suggested that in showing ‘a train from which scramble hundreds of natives’, the film offered a ‘striking contrast to views of English station scenes’ (Warwick Film Catalogue, 1901, 5259b). The popular interest in India was such that in 1900 F. B. Stewart would produce a series of films from India for Warwick – listed under the series title ‘Our Eastern Empire’ – which were released during 1901 (Barnes, 1997, 88).

Although released under the title ‘Panorama of Calcutta’, the film actually represents Varanasi, which is 400 miles further up the Ganges. Cinema Vision India suggested in 1980 that the film should have been titled ‘Panorama of Benares’ – as it shows the Benares Ghats – and the listing within the Warwick catalogue avoids specific geographical references (Cinema Vision India, 1980, 104). Warwick’s decision to specify the location as Calcutta may indicate a desire to reference places familiar to British audiences, and to uniformly present these disparate places and images within India – and the East – under broader terms (eg. India and Calcutta), which, in turn, helped audiences to understand and imagine a controlled Indian space. 



Panorama of Calcutta is one of the earliest surviving films of India. Effectively offering a ‘phantom ride’ along the Hooghly river, the film provides its predominantly British audience with a passing glimpse of the local people, buildings and activities. Warwick, under the stewardship of Charles Urban, were famed for their foreign travelogues, bringing these distant places to British audiences. Yet while Panorama of Calcutta positions the viewer as a tourist in India, it also maintains a sense of distance between the viewer and the subjects depicted on screen. The images – ‘the many temples, oriental architecture, fishing dhows, and other native craft’ – are shown, as the Warwick catalogue noted, in ‘rapid succession’, and are filmed from a constantly moving position on the water (Warwick Film Catalogue, 1901, 5260a). Furthermore, the catalogue noted the novelty of these films and especially their distance from British life, in offering ‘pictures in this far distant country’, and ‘a striking contrast to views of English station scenes’.

The film’s representation of India largely follows an image of the ‘exotic East’ already established within other cultural forms. However, as one of the first moving images of India, Panorama of Calcutta offered a different sensory experience for its viewers. Film historian Tom Gunning noted the popularity of these moving shots within early travel cinema. While recognising that the moving camera allowed for a broader view of the landscape and cast the spectator at home as a passenger (the films ‘recreate the actual penetration of space that travelling involves’), Gunning also emphasised the ‘sensational’ approach of these films. ‘They attempt to increase the power of representation’, he wrote, ‘either by addressing more senses (particularly the physical sensation of movement known as kinesthesia) than the traditional painting can or by making vision more intense (through illumination or stereoscopy)’ (Gunning, 2006, 36). In particular, the movement of the camera within Panorama of Calcutta connects with the movement on screen, portraying a dynamic, bustling space.

Tom Rice (September 2009)


Works Cited

Barnes, John and Richard Maltby, The Beginnings of the Cinema in England, 1894-1901, Volume 5: 1900 (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1997). 

Cinema Vision India, Volume 1, Issue 1, 1980.

Cinquegrani. Maurizio, “Travel Cinematography and the City: Architecture, Topographies and Exhibitions of the British Empire at the Turn of the Twentieth Century”, Nineteenth-Century Contexts: an Interdisciplinary Journal, forthcoming in 2010.

Fulton, Richard D., ‘Stanford, John Montague Benett- (1870–1947)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press, Oct 2006 [, accessed 4 September 2009].

Gunning, Tom, ‘“The Whole World Within Reach”: Travel Images Without Borders’, in Jeffrey Ruoff (ed.), Virtual Voyages: Cinema and Travel (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006).

Stewart, Jez, ‘Panorama of Calcutta’, accessed on 4 September 2009 at

Warwick Film Catalogue, 1901, held at the BFI National Library. 




Technical Data

Running Time:
1 minutes

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Production Company
Warwick Trading Company