This film is held by the BFI (ID: 20147).


A street busy with pedestrians and animal-drawn carts is filmed from a static camera position. Many of the Indian men are naked to the waist, some carry loads, several men and women carry umbrellas against the sun. No Europeans are visible. To the left side of the street are stalls with awnings over (126ft)



The Walturdaw Film Company began trading in 1904, its name deriving from the surnames of its founders, J.D. Walker, E.G. Turner, and G.H. Dawson. Walker and Turner had first formed a partnership in 1896, and they were the first people in Britain to rent out films (McKernan). The Walturdaw company was itself originally formed as a film rental business, but began to produce its own films in 1905. Prior to the First World War it was considered to be one of the leading film companies in Britain (‘Walturdaw Company’).

In their 1905-06 edition the Optical Lantern and Cinematograph Journal previewed ‘some remarkable films of Indian life’ made by the Walturdaw company (OPCJ, 1905-1906, 149). This enthusiastic review boasted that Walturdaw’s films were ‘taken by their own operators’ and that the films were the ‘best educational animated pictures yet before the public’. This series of films varied in length, and included a long feature about life on the River Ganges, as well as a film about ‘idol worship’, which depicted ‘in gruesome detail the horrible self-imposed tortures of the worshippers’ (OPCJ, 1905-1906, 149). The shorter films covered particular Indian subjects, such as A Procession of Lepers, Sacred Bathing, Caste Marks, Scenes at the Mahorrian Festival, The Devil Drivers, Sacred Elephants, and this film, A Native Street in India. For the journal, the value of these films lay in their comprehensiveness (‘they embrace almost every phase of Indian life’) and in their unprecedented subject matter (‘an impression of native observances that have never been put before the public in animated form’).

The early twentieth century was a period in which British and Indian life in the sub-continent was at its most segregated. Judith Brown has commented that, while Britons and Indians had mingled more freely in the earlier years of colonisation, by this period the British had become ‘a separate case in an already segregated society’ (Brown, 1994, 99). She writes of a ‘spatial segregation of British homes from areas where Indians lived, both in town and countryside’ (Brown, 1994, 98).

At the turn of the century India retained a primarily rural economy: 72% of the workforce were employed in agriculture (Brown, 1994, 112). The country remained poor. It was estimated in 1895 that the per capita income in India was £2.65 as opposed to £36.94 in Britain (Brown, 1994, 112). Indian society was nevertheless witnessing change. The country was becoming increasingly urban: 10% of the population lived in towns in 1901, as opposed to 8.7% in 1872 (Brown, 1994, 110). In addition, Brown claims that the expansion of transport communications was helping to integrate the country and forge a new sense of self-identity (Brown, 1994, 153). 



A Native Street in India, made in 1906, introduces a subject that recurs frequently in factual films of India made by the British: that of the teeming market street in a town or city. In later films (see, for example, The Fair City of Udaipur (1934), or Darjeeling – A Foot-Hill Town (1937)), market streets are commonly contrasted with other areas of the towns, such as their official buildings or palaces. The market is shown to be the preserve of the ‘ordinary’ people, who live in a world that is apart from the colonial offices or royal buildings. Correspondingly, while the market scenes are full of humanity, these other areas of the towns are comparatively devoid of people. This short film does not have time for such contrasts. In this case it is the film’s title that illustrates that this thoroughfare is the preserve of ‘the people’: this is a native street in India.

The cameraman utilises what becomes one of the most common ways of filming market scenes: the whole sequence is filmed from a static position in the centre of the street, allowing the activity to pass before the camera. At no point does the cameraman or any other member of the crew enter the frame. This reinforces the idea that this is the ‘native’ area of the town; it also means the sequence becomes hard to date or situate. Robin Baker has written that ‘Unfortunately, given the lack of clearly recognisable features, it seems to be impossible to identify the city’ in this film (Baker). It could be argued that this is intentional on the filmmakers’ behalf: this market street is representative of other such streets in India. The title of the film helps to reinforce this point.

Indeed, this market scene has much in common with those filmed in other Indian cities or towns at different times. The people’s clothing, for the most part, is traditional; the vehicles are not motorised, instead they are drawn by oxen or by men; some of the people carry goods upon their heads; the goods in the stores (although not clearly visible in this film) are foodstuffs or they are handcrafted. There are, however, features that are particular to this sequence. Several of the men have distinctive face paint, and in amongst the crowds young Indian girls can be seen who are wearing western clothing of the period. One wears a white shirt and a dark ankle length skirt; another wears a white dress and has her hair in a ponytail.

Another feature of this film that recurs in later studies of market scenes is the people’s reaction to the camera. Although the camera remains static, it is far from a neutral presence. The people register their interest in the camera; they stare back at it as it stares at them. In early films such as this there is often a great deal of curiosity about the process of being filmed. Here, one young boy stops and assumes a position almost as static as that of the camera itself. Meanwhile, people gather screen right, all absorbed by the filmmakers’ activity.

Richard Osborne (April 2010)


Works Cited

Baker, Robin, A Native Street in India (1906), Mediatheque, BFI, London.

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

McKernan, Luke, ‘Edward George Turner’,

‘This Month’s New Films’, Optical Lantern and Cinematograph Journal, 2 (1905-1906), 149.

‘Walturdaw Company’, BFI Film & TV Database,




Technical Data

Running Time:
2 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
126 ft

Production Credits

Production Company
Walturdaw Company