about shabistan

What is the Shabistan Film Archive?

Shabistan is an old word for a cinema. Dictionaries will also tell you a shabistan is a chamber of dreams, an exquisitely decorated place to spend the night. At the Shabistan Film Archive, we are building a chamber of dreams where films and film lovers can spend many nights and days.

Cinema is modern India’s greatest contribution to world culture. India produces and watches films on a scale, and with a passion, matched nowhere else. South Asia’s many film industries, in dozens of languages, produce the living art that pervades our lives. Films give us the songs on our lips, the stars whose images tower over our streets, and the dialogues that pepper our conversations.

At Shabistan, we believe that films are for everyone. We treasure the actors, directors, and other artists who make them, but we equally cherish the filmgoing public – the fans who sing along, who dance in the aisles, whose memories are engraved with indelible scenes from years ago.

These memories are being destroyed. Films are being recycled for scrap, washed of their silver, burnt in factories as fuel, dumped in lakes to clear space in godowns. Most of the films are already gone. We need your help to save the rest. In addition to films and funding, we also welcome volunteers and institutional partnerships. To get in touch, please write to us at contact@shabistan.org.

Shabistan’s Mission

The mission of the Shabistan Film Archive is to preserve and make available the films of South Asia. Films are unparalleled records of dozens of different languages and cultures, vibrant chronicles of the region’s history, and irreplaceable touchstones for a billion ardent filmgoers. These films are now in grave danger, subject to active destruction as well as passive decay. The loss of this vast body of work would be a cultural disaster for the subcontinent and the world. Our goal is to ensure that the films can be seen and appreciated by film lovers, scholars, and the general public, now and in the future.

As we acquire, preserve, restore, and exhibit these films, we must make ourselves accountable to the communities to which they belong. Films are not simply commercial products, nor can they be reduced to the artistic inspiration of the individuals who make them. They are also given meaning by their audiences, and by the filmmakers’ and filmgoers’ societies. Thus, our goal is to safeguard all South Asian films, without regard to boundaries of nation, language, genre, or prestige. We are obligated, moreover, to contribute to an inclusive and democratic society in which cultural resources are available to all. Without people to watch them, think about them, and respond to them, films lose their meaning. We therefore seek to create a lasting, public-minded institution where films are preserved and returned to circulation so that they can catalyze reflection, creation, and participation.