Devika Rani


The actress Devika Rani was Rabindranath Tagore’s grand-niece and the daughter of the first Indian surgeon general M. N. Chaudhuri. Devika Rani lived in London in the mid-1920s, studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) and the Royal Academy of Music. She also studied architecture and textile design and was for a while apprenticed to the studio of Elisabeth Arden. She met Himanshu Rai in London in 1928. He had originally trained as a lawyer but had become a film director and asked Devika Rani to design his next film, A Throw of Dice (1929). They married in 1929. The film was edited in Germany where Devika Rani met film directors such as Sternberg, G. W. Pabst and Fritz Lang, which heightened her interest in film-making. She subsequently joined UFA studios in Berlin, where she assisted Marlene Dietrich on the set of Der Blaue Engel (1930). She also briefly worked with Max Reinhardt. One of the early BBC broadcasts to India included a Devika Rani recital (15 May 1933). Rai and Devika Rani starred together in the film Karma (1933), which was completed at the Stall Studios in London. The film was the first Indian Talkie in English and Hindustani to be released in England, Europe and India. The film had its premiere, attended by the former Viceroy to India, Lord Irwin, in London in May 1933, and was well received by the critics and a big hit with the public. After the successful premiere of Karma, Devika Rani was asked by the BBC to act in an early television broadcast in Britain and was also chosen to inaugurate the first BBC broadcast on the short wavelength to India in May 1933.

Devika Rani and Rai returned to Bombay and set up the Bombay Talkies studio in 1934. It was hailed as one of India’s best-equipped studios and enlisted the work of cinema practitioners like the German director Franz Osten, and the cameraman Carl Josef Wirsching. The studio also launched the careers of many cinema icons of the immediate post-independence era, such as Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor. After the death of her husband in 1940, Devika Rani became the manager of Bombay Talkies. In 1945 she married the Russian artist Svetoslav Roerich and sold her shares in Bombay Talkies. In 1953 she was awarded the Padamshree and in 1969 the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cinema.

Published works: 

Selected filmography:

Prapancha Pash (1929) [costume design]

Karma (1933)

Jawani Ki Hawa (1935)

Achhut Kanya (1936)

Janmabhoomi (1936)

Jeevan Naiya (1936)

Jeevan Prabhat (1937)

Savitri (1937)

Durga (1939)

Anjaan (1941)

Hamari Baat (1943)

Date of birth: 
30 Mar 1908
Secondary works: 

Rajadhyaksha, Ashish and Willemen, Paul,  Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema, 2nd edn (London: British Film Institute, 2002)

Wadia, Avabai, The Light is Ours: Memoirs and Movements (International Planned Parenthood Federation, 2001)

Varma, Madhulika, 'Obituary: Devika Rani', The Independent (26 March 1994)

City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Current name city of birth: 
Other names: 

Devika Rani Choudhury

Date of death: 
09 Mar 1994
Location of death: 
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Jan 1925
Precise 1st arrival date unknown: 
Dates of time spent in Britain: 




Colonial and Indian Exhibition, 1886

04 May 1886
Event location: 

South Kensington, London


In Autumn 1884, the Prince of Wales assumed the Presidency of the Royal Commission for the projected Colonial and Indian Exhibition. The Indian Court relied upon the assistance and involvement of the India Office in London and Indian Government, with work beginning in early 1885 to design the exhibition space and procure goods for display.

'India' took up roughly one third of the exhibition space in 1886. 103,000 square feet were dedicated within the exhibition buildings to India at a cost of £22,000. The Indian Government contributed £10,000 to this, with the rest of the money coming from the Royal Commission and various grants. Apart from the financial contributions needed, exhibits had to be procured, and in this the Indian princes and Indian states were intimately involved, donating a range of goods.

The Indian exhibits included art, architecture, economic goods, silks and anthropological studies. Art-wares were organized by Indian provinces - marking a break from previous exhibitions where displays had been ordered by juries on their rankings. The Indian Court was received well by the press and the Royal Family. The Gateways in particular attracted much attention. (The Jaipur Gate, paid for by the Maharaja of Jaipur, has stood in the grounds of the Hove Museum and Art Gallery since 1926.) The exhibition included a display of 'native artisans' - thirty-four men from Agra demonstrating various crafts and professions, from sweetmeat maker to potter to carpet weaver. These men were in fact inmates from Agra Jail who had arrived in Britain on 20 April 1886 with Dr J. W. Tyler, superintendent of Agra Jail. They were all invited to a reception at Windsor Castle to meet Queen Victoria in July 1886.

The exhibition was open for 164 days and welcomed 5,559,745 visitors.

Prince of Wales and Royal Commission
People involved: 

Mancherjee Merwanjee Bhownaggree (Commissioner for H. H. the Thakur Sahib of Bhawnagar), B. J. Bose (Administration Court), Edward C. Buck (Commissioner for the Government of India), Philip Cunliffe-Owen (Executive Commissioner), B. A. Gupta (Silk Culture and Bombay Art Ware Courts), E. B. Havell (part of Madras committee), T. N. Mukharji (in charge of the commercial enquiry office), C. Purdon Clarke (Honorary Architect), J. R. Royle (Official Agent for the Government of India), Thomas Wardle (arranged silk collection).

Published works: 

Colonial and Indian Exhibition, 1886. Empire of India: Special Catalogue of Exhibits by the Government of India and Private Exhibitors (London: William Clowes & Sons., 1886)

Report of the Royal Commission for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition (London: William Clowes & Sons, 1887)

Royle, J. R., Report on the Indian Section of the Colonial and Indian Exhibition 1886 (London: William Clowes & Sons, 1887)



The Colonial and Indian Exhibition 1886: Supplement to the Art Journal (1886) 

Pall Mall Gazette, 4 May 1886

Illustrated London News, 17 July 1886 and 24 July 1886

Primrose Record 2, 1886

Various reports in the daily press including illustrations in the Graphic and the Penny Illustrated Paper

Cundall, Frank, Reminiscences of the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, illustrated by Thomas Riley (London: William Clowes & Sons, 1886)

E. V. B., A London Sparrow at the Colinderies (London: Sampson Low, 1887)

Mukharji, T. N., A Visit to Europe (Calcutta: W. Newman, 1889)

Secondary works: 

Barringer, Tim and Flynn, Tom, Colonialism and the Object: Empire, Material Culture, and the Museum (London: Routledge, 1998)

Burton, Antoinette, 'Making a Spectacle of Empire: Indian Travellers in Fin-de-siecle London', History Workshop Journal, 42 (1996), pp. 127-46

Dutta, Arindam, 'The Politics of Display: India 1886 and 1986', Journal of Arts and Ideas 30-1 (1997), pp. 115-45

Greenhalgh, Paul, Ephemeral Vistas: The Expositions Universelles, Great Exhibitions and World's Fairs, 1851-1939 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988) 

Hoffenberg, Peter H., An Empire on Display: English, Indian, and Australian Exhibitions from the Crystal Palace to the Great War (London: University of California Press, 2001)

King, Brenda M., Silk and Empire (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005)

Mathur, Saloni, India by Design: Colonial History and Cultural Display (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007)

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