This film is held by the BFI (ID: 8399).


The King-Emperor's horse race at Calcutta, India.

Government of India Censor Certificate (6). Main title (10). "The King Emperor's Cup Race 1925" (18). Scenes at Calcutta race track, Europeans passing the camera entering the course (102). "Scenes in the Paddock" (106). Indians lead round a number of horses watched by the crowd (133). Horses are led to the race course through a crowd-lined avenue (179). The horses on the course (196). The crowds, mainly European but some Indians (232). "The Start" (234). LS start of the race (250). "The Exciting Finish" (253). Same (264). "Won by Orange William" (267). The horses are led to the enclosure (278). The horse, Orange William, is stopped in front of the camera then moves on (286). The jockey dismounts, the horse is unsaddled; MS of the horse (313). MS the jockey and two other men who pose for the camera (326). MS of the King-Emperor's cup (331). Further scenes of the race course and the crowds (375). "The End" (377ft).

Note: The censor certificate gives the length as 1000ft.



The Indian company Madan Theatres produced Calcutta Topical No. 1 in 1925. Madan Theatres was at this time the largest distribution chain in India (Rajadhyaksha, 1986, 51). They had been responsible for the first Bengali feature film, Billwamangal (1919); they were the largest importer of films in the sub-continent; and they would go on to make the first Bengali talking picture Jamai Shashhi (1931) (Sharma, 2004). During the silent era many Indian studios produced ‘topicals’, short films that reported on recent happenings and social occasions (Gautaman, 1996). Madan Theatres’ Calcutta series aimed to show ‘all the leading events of the season’ (Baker, 2009).

This first episode covers the King Emperor’s Cup Race, held at the Calcutta Race Course in 1925. This course is home to the ‘Royal Calcutta Turf Club’, which holds ‘Pride of place in Organised racing in India’ (‘Royal Calcutta Turf Club’, 2009). Founded by the British in 1947, the Calcutta Turf Club did not admit its first Indian member until 1908. Its imperial outlook is reflected in the title given to this race, as well as in the addition of the term ‘Royal’ to the club’s name (bestowed in 1912 to honour a visit by King George V).

M. N. Srinivas has argued that prior to independence the bulk of Indian people experienced westernization only ‘indirectly and gradually’, but he adds that ‘From a geographical point of view the inhabitants of coastal areas, especially those close to the fast-growing port towns, were favorably suited to undergo primary Westernization’ (Srinivas, 1968, 61-62). He further states that ‘The three presidency towns of Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras attracted elements of the Indian population who quite early showed a sensitivity to the new commercial, educational, and other opportunities’ provided by the British presence’ (Srinivas, 1968, 62-63). Judith Brown concurs but believes that such opportunities were only ‘possible for the few’; she also points out that ‘British social aloofness, particularly in the club and family setting, limited their informal influence on Indian lives’ (Brown, 1994, 249-50).

During the mid-1920s Calcutta and the province of Bengal were home to some of the strongest elements of the Indian nationalist movement. The governor Lord Lytton encountered opposition from the Swarajist party led by C. R. Das, and as a result halted the implementation of the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms that had granted power to Indians within local government (Lytton, 1942, 9). In addition he encountered a violent terrorist movement, which was only thwarted when Lytton was granted emergency powers, leading to the arrest of over 50 nationalist leaders, including Subhas Chandra Bose (The Times, 29 October 1924, 15).



Calcutta Topical Number One provides an interesting study of British influence in India. The experience of the British racecourse is imported almost wholesale to the sub-continent. The form of the race, the style of betting, the design of the cup, the racers and the majority of the horses are all western in origin (‘Royal Calcutta Turf Club’, 2009), as is the majority of the crowd. The film itself is preoccupied with western attire. Its longest scenes depict the perambulations of the racegoers. Here the camera is attracted to those who are dressed in the most modern 1920s styles (scenes tend to be cut when someone wearing less fashionable clothing walks into view). Contemporary fashion is particularly in evidence among the younger women attendees.

A lengthy introduction depicting crowds arriving at the course is followed by a section entitled ‘Scenes in the Paddock’. Again, the camera stays focused on the spectators. The scene begins with a panned shot from the crowd to the horses being paraded. The following scenes are always framed so that we can view both the racegoers and the horses.

The footage of the King Emperor’s Cup Race is severely truncated. There is a quick edit from the start straight to what a title card describes as being ‘the exciting finish’. The lack of attention given to the race is probably not only attributable to the filmmakers’ priorities: filming the entire course would also have required multiple cameras. Moreover, it is apparent that the filmmakers wish to relate the story of the sporting event. During the paddock scenes the camera had focused primarily on the eventual winner, and following the victory the rider, horse and owner are each posed for the camera. There is also a close-up of the cup that they have won.

Although Indian racegoers are vastly outnumbered, one of the most striking features of the film is their presence in the crowd. Here there is a difference between the male and female attendees. The majority of the Indian men are wearing western clothes; some are in fashionable 1920s attire, including a man in a three-piece suit, white shoes and trilby who becomes the main focus of the camera’s attention. The Indian men are not seen in groups. The Indian women, meanwhile, usually appear collectively and, although dressed in their finery, they commonly wear traditional Indian clothing, typically saris. Indian men and women are not usually seen together. Elsewhere in the film, Indians are depicted in a more subservient role. One function of the Indian staff is to lead the horses in the paddock; Indians are also seen in uniform, serving as guards and stewards.

Calcutta Topical Number One depicts a life far removed from the struggle for independence. Here a westernised social event is proudly on display. The race appears to have been a high social occasion for both the British and Indian members of the crowd. However, this is a gathering that, on the surface at least, appears to be tolerant and at ease with itself. A wide variety of styles can be witnessed among both the British and Indian attendees, some of them outré (one British woman can be seen wearing a gentleman’s top hat). Moreover, this gathering of cultures is depicted intermingling freely.

Richard Osborne (June 2009)


Works Cited

Baker, Robin, ‘Meditheque: Annual Inspection of the Bodyguard by His Excellency the Lord Lytton’, 2009, <>.

Brown, Judith, M., Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy, 2nd edn (Oxford: OUP, 1994).

‘Firm Action in Bengal’, The Times, 29 October 1924, 15.

Gautaman, D., ‘Foreword: 4th Mumbai International Film Festival’, 1996, <>.

Lytton, Victor, Pundits and Elephants: Being the Experiences of Five Years as Governor of an Indian Province (London: Peter Davies, 1942).

Rajadhyaksha, Ashish, ‘Neo-Traditionalism - Film as Popular Art in India’, Framework, 32/33 (1986), 20-67.

‘Royal Calcutta Turf Club’, 2009, <>.

Sharma, Biren Das, ‘Madan Theatre Ltd: Knowing the Company Better’, 2004, <>.

Srinivas, M. N., Social Change in Modern India (Berkerley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968).




Technical Data

Running Time:
4 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
377 ft

Production Credits

Production Company
Madan Theatres