This film is held by the BFI (ID: 20055).


DRAMA-DOCUMENTARY. An Indian villager supports a Congress riot, is arrested, tried, sentenced and reprieved. Anti-Congress propaganda film made by R.H.G. Johnston, a District Officer in the United Provinces in the late 1920s and 1930s. Archive copy incomplete.

"Truth Will Out". MLS two men herding bullocks in a barren field (26). "Jainti Prasad" (40). MCU Jainti Prasad, he has a white moustache and wears a turban. He smiles at the camera (52). "Himmat Singh" (61). MCU Himmat Singh, a younger man, also wears a moustache and turban. He smiles at the camera (83). MCU the two men with the animals - they move away from the bullocks and engage in earnest conversation (114). A hand holding a poster with Hindi or Urdu script (121). "Come to the Congress meeting" (134). The two men continue their debate nearer to camera; Prasad is reluctant to go (149). "Congress makes mischief. I will not come" (172). Jainti Prasad walks away. Himmat Singh shows frustration and returns to herd the bullocks, leading them off (188). "The Congress Agitator Arrives" (198ft).

Note: Titles in Hindi, Urdu and English.



R.H.G. Johnston, a District Officer in the Agra region of the United Provinces, produced The Truth Will Out in 1930. It represents a localised response to the civil disobedience campaign of the Indian National Congress (INC).

The period of civil disobedience lasted from 1930-34 and marked an important turning point for the INC, the largest of India’s own political parties. Guided once more by Mahatma Gandhi, the party rejected the declaration made in 1929 by Lord Irwin, the Viceroy of India, which proposed Dominion status for India. They also declined to attend his Round Table conferences, held to discuss the future of the sub-continent. The campaign of civil disobedience was undertaken instead, with the objective of gaining complete independence from Britain. This method of protest had distinct advantages for the INC. According to Judith Brown, the campaign ‘increased the political significance and prestige of Congress as an all-India organization, enabled it to re-forge links with a wide span of Indians operating at different political levels, and increased the leverage of its central leaders, particularly Gandhi, over their countrymen and the British’ (Brown, 1994, 274).

Beginning with Gandhi’s famous march from Sabarmati to the coast at Dandi, where he illegally produced salt in protest against government tax, the campaign was adaptable to local issues throughout India. In the United Provinces protests incorporated the picketing of shops, the breaking of forest laws, and the flying of the INC flag over schools and municipal buildings (Cell, 1992, 168). Here the government responded by declaring the INC illegal, leading to the imprisonment of around 750 members by June 1930 (Cell, 1992, 169). It was in the latter half of 1930 that the protests took on a rural dimension for the first time. United Provinces was home to the INC leader Jawaharlal Nehru, who was imprisoned in October 1930, in part for encouraging rural tenants to withhold their rents. This means of protest was widely supported, not least because a slump in agricultural prices made it difficult for tenants to pay any money in the first place. It has been argued that in Agra, even before the slump, ‘the average peasant lived at or perilously near the margin of subsistence’ (Cell, 1992, 183). The withdrawal of this money posed a direct problem for provincial government: it was via a percentage of the landlord’s rent revenue that they gained taxes from the peasantry.

District Officers, in their role as Deputy Commissioners, were responsible for the general administration of their areas. They also served as District Magistrates and were in charge of the collection of taxes. R.H.G. Johnston, therefore, would have been intimately connected with the problems posed by the INC campaign in his district. The governor of United Provinces, Sir Malcolm Hailey, also became increasingly attuned to the situation, allowing his District Officers recourse to specialist publicity officers and film propaganda as part of a publicity campaign to encourage rural landlords to act more responsibly towards their tenants (Hunt and Harrison, 1980, 192). R.H.G Johnston appears to have taken it upon himself to address the problems presented by the INC, however. His film addresses the Indian peasantry rather than landlords, and it was made in 1930, four years before Hailey’s campaign.

Ultimately, the INC proved to be the more effective propagandists. Hunt and Harrison have argued that ‘When the ban on Congress was lifted in 1934, it was the Congress workers, cycling through the countryside spreading the message that Congress rule would reduce tenant rents […], who won the support of the peasant’ (Hunt and Harrison, 1980, 192). As evidence they cite the success of the INC in the 1934 elections.



Although only a short segment of The Truth Will Out remains, the film still provides an interesting item for study. It says much about the value that the British authorities in India accorded to communications, both their own and that of the opposition, intended to influence opinion. It also provides evidence of the position and perceptions of the District Officer. G.P. Haig, who served as a District Officer in the United Provinces between 1931-1947, outlined what he maintained were widely shared beliefs among his colleagues: ‘Our main responsibility was the maintenance of “Pax Britannica” (law and order) inside a unitary system of Government. We were against Congress, who were trying to chuck the British out’ (Hunt and Harrison, 1980, 187). This bias is evident in Johnston’s film.

The remaining section of footage is the film’s opening, which features an assault on INC propaganda. A rural peasant, Himmat Singh, has in his possession a Congress handbill, which advertises a forthcoming political meeting. He shows it to a co-worker, Jainti Prasad, who argues, via a title card, that ‘Congress makes mischief. I will not come’. Their argument gradually becomes physical until, eventually, they go their separate ways. The violent nature of Singh appears to be borne out in the rest of the film. The remainder is said to portray Singh’s participation in a Congress riot, followed by his subsequent arrest, sentence and reprieve (Davidson).

Although The Truth Will Out protests at the mischief caused by the INC, it could be argued that it is Johnston’s film that is duplicitous. It falsifies the nature of the protests in the United Provinces: those in the rural districts were centred on withholding rents, and those in the towns and cities were not commonly destructive. John W. Cell has stated that the district had ‘no violent outbursts on the scale of those in Bombay, Peshawar, or Chittagong’ (Cell, 1992, 169). The conditions that provided the INC with the means for their agitation are not falsified, however. The primitive methods of farming that are on display in this film are undoubtedly those of the rural poor.

In order to address this rural audience Johnston’s employs the most basic of film techniques. The principal characters are usually kept within the frame and they are introduced to the audience by means of lingering head-and-shoulders shots. The rudimentary nature of Johnston’s production sometimes works against his aims, however. The action is commonly shot from a distance which is not conducive to the drama. His actors are not capable of remaining in character: during the head-and-shoulders shots they break into smiles, and in the midst of their heated argument there is a moment in which Jainti Prasad breaks off and waves happily at the camera.  Despite the rudimentary nature of the film, it is notable that Johnston presumes the literacy of his audience. The remaining footage features several title cards, each of which is written in three separate languages. In addition, at one point the camera pans down the INC handbill, presupposing that the audience will be reading it.

Richard Osborne (October 2009)


Works Cited

Brown, Judith M., Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy, 2nd edn (Oxford: OUP, 1994).

Cell, John W, Hailey: A Study in British Imperialism 1872-1969 (North Carolina: Duke University, 1992).

Davidson, Alex, ‘The Truth Will Out (1930)’, Mediatheque, BFI, London.

Garga, B. D., From Raj to Swaraj: The Non-fiction Film in India (New Delhi: Penguin, 2007).

Hunt, Roland and John Harrison, The District Officer in India 1930-1947 (London: Scolar Press, 1980).




Technical Data

Running Time:
3 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film

Production Credits

Production Countries: