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The David Bolland Collection of Film and Video on Kathakali

Rose Bruford College is privileged to hold the David Bolland Film and Video Collection. This remarkable archive, most generously donated by David Bolland, is primarily devoted to Kathakali, the classical dance theatre of South India, and also includes material on other performing arts of Kerala.

The Collection is unique in its range, size and historical value. Where serious attempts to record performance in Kerala have only begun in the last few years and earlier efforts have not survived storage in conditions of high humidity, the extensive David Bolland Collection was developed and preserved over four decades. It includes material dating from the 1950s and records performances by some of the finest actors and musicians whose work cannot be as easily matched by those who follow the shorter training programmes of today. It includes major artists of the second half of the twentieth century such as Kunju Kurup, Kunju Nair, Nanu Nair, Ramankutty Nair, Gopi, Padmanabhan Nair, M.P.Sankaran Namboodiri, Unnikrishna Kurup, Sankaran Embrandiri, and Hyderali.

The Scope of the Collection

The Collection contains some seventy hours of film and video:

  • Documentaries: including Malabar Masque
  • Seventeen recordings of performances of plays
  • Material on training
  • Performance preparations and introductions: chutti (make-up) and melappadam and purappadu (music and dance)
  • Fourteen hours of Choliyattam, 12 scripted training pieces, performed by major artists. Material on other types of dramatic and ritual performance from Kerala: Ottanthullal, Mohiniattam, Theyyam, the Trichur Pooram, Kalam.

Access to the Collection

The material in the archive was gathered over five decades through long association and friendship with performing artists and educators in Kerala. No fees were paid and all recordings were undertaken by David Bolland at his own expense and as a labour of love for the art of Kathakali. It is a condition the donation of the collection that it should not be reproduced or used for commercial purposes, and should be made available to artists, students, researchers for personal study by on-site at the College.

David Bolland

David Bolland began as an amateur film-maker in 1935. He served in the Second World War and was awarded an MBE (Military) for his service and an OBE (Civil) for his work in India. During his years in Kerala he saw and documented many performances of Kathakali and, with the Keralan scholar K.P.S.Menon as his mentor and collaborator, he gathered material for his book A Guide to Kathakali (now in its 3rd edition and considered the best English-language introduction to this art). Many of the performers whom he filmed trained and worked at the Kerala Kalamandalam, where in 1973 he funded an annual prize for graduates. His film documentary on Kathakali, Malabar Masque won 26 awards at international amateur film festivals, including the festival at Cannes.

The Collection

The Collection reflects the changing conditions of performance over the last half-century in a variety of locations – from early silent filming of out-door performances lit only by a single traditional oil lamp to video of large-scale tours on the stages of European theatres.

The original material was recorded and edited on a range of formats that reflects changing technologies as the decades passed – from 16mm, 8mm film, and Betamax, VHS, Video 8, Video Hi8 and U-matic video tape, down to digital recording. The collection is now being digitally re-mastered, edited and copied for accessible viewing by researchers, students and artists. The Collection is also available with English voice-over commentary provided by specialists from Kerala. During the continuing process of re-mastering and editing, most of the material will be available for viewing.

The Collection also includes slides and photographs and detailed performance notebooks dating from the 1950s.

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