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About David Bolland

David Bolland, MBE, OBE (1919-2012)

Few people outside India have given more to the appreciation of Kathakali, its artists and the culture of Kerala than David Bolland.  

Born in 1919 in Cairo, David Bolland won a scholarship to King’s School, Worcester, where he already made amateur films on the Royal Jubilee of 1935 and the Coronation of George VI in 1937.   On leaving he joined the London office of Peirce Leslie & Co. Ltd., a British firm (founded in South India in 1862) that managed tea, coffee and rubber estates, shipping and insurance.

In 1939, and he joined the Militia, serving as an officer in the 53rd (Welsh) Division and taking part in the 1944 Normandy landings.  On service inFrance,Belgium,Holland andGermany, he was mentioned in despatches and awarded an MBE (Military).  

In 1946 he took up his post with Peirce Leslie & Co. and settled in Calicut.   He saw his first Kathakali play in 1954, with Kunju Kurup in the leading role.  Until 1971 when he retired, he saw 146 performances, keeping notes on each and filming many.  With the distinguished scholar K.P.S.Menon as mentor, he developed this material for his subsequent book.  Many of the artists who became his friends were associated with the Kerala Kalamandalam, and in 1973 he set up an annual prize for the leading graduate.

In 1967 he became General Manager then Managing Director of Peirce Leslie and oversaw its transformation into an Indian public company.  For his work as “Unofficial Correspondent” to the Deputy UK High Commissioner in Madras he was awarded an OBE (Civil).  On retirement he remained a Director of Peirce Leslie, continuing to visit Kerala each year until the early 1990s.

In Somerset he built a small viewing cinema and editing studio at his home to work on his collection.  He made the 40-minute Masque of Malabar, and the shorter Malabar Masque which won 26 awards at international amateur film festivals.  In 1980 he published A Guide to Kathakali *, now in its third edition and recognised as the best English-language introduction to Kathakali.

He had made 18 films on other aspects of Indian life and culture and continued to record Kathakali and other forms on video in India, France and the UK.  These included valuable documentation of leading artists, M.P.Sankaran Namboodiri and the late C. Padmanabhan Nair, demonstrating Choliyattam, the choreographed pieces of Kathakali plays.  Other recordings included Kutiyattam, Mohiniattam, Ottanthullal, Theyyam and powder painting (Kalam) and make-up (Chutti).

In retirement he led an active life with his wife, Peggy, (until her death in 2003) in their Somerset community as church warden and trustee, tax commissioner, school governor and supporter of charities. 

In 2002 he generously donated his remarkable Film and Video Collection to Rose Bruford College, UK, and, in Thrissur, K.K.Gopalakrishan established the David Bolland Performing Arts Centre to perpetuate his memory and his contribution to the arts of Kerala.  At the time of his death David Bolland had almost completed an internet record of his remarkable life (

He leaves a daughter, her husband, and two grandchildren.

Anthony Hozier

 *  David Bolland. A Guide to Kathakali. Third edition. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pty., 1996. (ISBN 81-207-1833-X).

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