Lost jewel of Bradford’s Bollywood past goes on view

Graham Relton from the Yorkshire Film Archive. Picture: Tony Johnson.
Graham Relton from the Yorkshire Film Archive. Picture: Tony Johnson.

It looked more like Gargrave than the Ganges, but the Bollywood thriller they shot on the banks of the River Wharfe four decades ago is a jewel in the crown of Yorkshire’s forgotten cinema.

Only fragments of it are known to exist, within a TV documentary about its production, which is among a slate of films now released to the public that shed a new light on a county coming to terms with its changing population.

A scene from the production of the lost Bradford Bollywood movie

A scene from the production of the lost Bradford Bollywood movie

The unnamed drama, described as an adrenaline-fuelled romantic thriller, was the pet project in 1976 of Mohamed Fazal Hussain, a 73 year-old who had been one of the first to migrate from south Asia to Bradford, making the journey from Bangalore in 1924.

In his later years a self-styled “Emperor” to the city’s growing immigrant community, Mr Hussain was a cinema owner who took a somewhat casual approach to the conventions of film making.

“Bolton Abbey is a good location. It looks just like the Hooghly River,” he is seen telling an assistant in The Bradford Godfather, the film of him made by John Willis and Paul Dunstan for Yorkshire TV.

It has now been digitised by the Yorkshire Film Archive and made available to view on the website of the British Film Institute.

“I’d love to know where their original Bollywood film is,” said Graham Relton, manager of the Yorkshire archive.

“I’ve often thought about it, wondering whatever happened to it, whether it ever got finished. We’ve certainly never found it.”

They have, however, unearthed a treasure trove of other footage showing the Asian community finding its feet in Yorkshire, and Bradford in particular.

They are among 80 pieces of footage from around Britain that form the BFI’s South Asian Britain on Film collection. Among them is a silent colour reel shot by West Yorkshire Police in 1976 of a National Front march outside the city’s Manningham School.

“It was the CCTV footage of its day,” Mr Relton said. “The police weren’t taking sides, but if any trouble had erupted they would have had a record.

“The presence of a camera may also have been a deterrent to trouble makers. The police were quite forward thinking.”

The collection also includes amateur footage of one of the earliest Asian concerts in Bradford, and of the city’s first Asian cricket team, which was managed by a church minister.

However, a darker side to the cultural shift is shown in a 1967 documentary from Granada TV, called A New Kind of Match - a reference to traditional cricket rivalries.

Its makers filmed inside city slums and revealed that in a typical house, nine men were charged £1 a week each to sleep three to a room between their nightly shifts in the textile mills. There had been only 12 compulsory de­crowd­ing orders in the previous ten years, the programme says.

“The housing isn’t good but it’s better than some other ghettos in the country,” says the reporter, Granada’s Bill Grundy.

“Here, Pakistan lives its own life, with its shops, its tailors, its banks and its restaurants.”

The film ends on a positive note, with one of the new arrivals saying: “We’re going to be something tomorrow.”

• ANOTHER collection of vintage Yorkshire footage will go on view next week, revealing the lives of coastal communities from the earliest days of film.

The Yorkshire Film Archive Moving North collection includes clips of “climmers” collecting eggs from ledges on the cliffs at Bempton, and 1950s fishermen bringing home the daily catch, with crab and lobster placed on the table by the end of the day.

The films will be screened at Scarborough Art Gallery next Thursday, with further showings through the summer and autumn at Bridlington, Staithes and Saltburn.

The archive’s director, Sue Howard, said: “It’s all about bringing local films back to local communities.”