This film is held by the BFI (ID: 14622).


INTEREST - Travelogue. Scenes of Indian life and architecture.

RL.1 Seas breaking on the rocks at Cape Comorin (58-89); the Afghan end of the Khyber Pass (106-182); sentries on guard (233); a camel caravan (332); map of Europe superimposed on map of Indian continent to show relative sizes (353); the Golden Temple, Amritsar (380-408); Taj Mahal, Agra (418-449); the Maharajah's palace, Mysore (451-475); diagram showing relative populations of Great Britain, North America, Africa and India (552); pilgrims at the Bathing Festival, Benares (558-588); irrigating fields with water wheels (608-662); drawing water from a well (665-715); the Great Dam on the River Kauriala (725-763); cutting rice (775-795); oxen ploughing and raji being sown (808-842); reaping the cholum harvests (850-939).

RL.2 Village life in Southern India showing bullocks being washed (30); a bullock fair at Subramaniya (126); a street scene (131-181); a native dance by Lambadi women (188-233); fishermen at work (249-307); market scenes (317-349); dhobies (358-429); a potter (434-558); a barber (606-660); a chatti market (588); a water carrier (592-602); snake-charmers (663-714); gathering manure for fuel (723-748); a dance by Onaons of Bihar (774-854); river fishing (959). The End (1894ft).



Glimpses of India (1929) formed part of the ‘Nature Studies’ series, which was produced by Visual Education Ltd, a now obscure, but then prolific, British company. The co-directors, both of whom had been involved with the British film industry since the teens, made other episodes in the series which do not have a colonial setting.  The films were made with a school audience in mind. In its Educational Films section the Monthly Film Bulletin stated that, although a ‘rather scrappy film’, Glimpses of India would be ‘Suitable for children of 10 to 15’ (MFB, September 1934, 62).

The late 1920s was a period of political change in India. The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms of 1919 had planned for the gradual introduction of self-governing institutions in the country. Indian nationalists, however, argued that the proposals did not go far enough. In 1920 the Indian National Congress (INC) voted in support of Gandhi’s proposal for self-rule, and for a period adopted a policy of non-co-operation with the British authorities. The late 1920s witnessed the Simon Commission’s review of the 1919 Reforms. The all-white composition of the Commission prompted further protests from Indian nationalists, which in turn led to the 1929 declaration by the Indian Viceroy, Lord Irwin, that ‘the natural issue of India’s constitutional progress […] is the attainment of Dominion status’, i.e. parity with the self-governing, white nations of the British Empire. Once again, however, the British response did not satisfy Indian nationalists’ demands. The Irwin Declaration led to another period of non-co-operation by the INC amid calls for a fully independent India.

This was also a period of social change. The population of India grew from just over 305,700,000 in 1921 to 388,171,000 a decade later (Brown, 1994, 253). Although the number of town dwellers increased by less than one per cent in this decade –  from 10.2 per cent to 11.1 per cent of the population – the fact that the population was growing as a whole meant that this was a time of increasing urbanisation (Brown, 1994, 253). This period also witnessed an expansion in transport infrastructure, in media communication, and in education at all levels. Each of these aspects helped to encourage a greater sense of Indian identity, which in turn bolstered the nationalist cause (Brown, 1994, 25).

Despite these transformations life for the majority of Indians remained relatively unchanged. During the first half of the twentieth century the proportion of the population employed in agriculture remained steady, at around 70 per cent (Brown, 1994, 254). Moreover, Judith Brown has argued that:

…despite the economic upheavals of the war and its aftermath, despite the British bid for a new political order and Gandhi’s visionary enterprise, much remained the same in the content of the subcontinent’s interlocking political worlds, just as remarkably little changed in ordinary Indians’ daily experience of work, family, and leisure. No striking or simple process of ‘westernization’ occurred as communications drew the subcontinent nearer to Europe, and as more Indians passed between the two (Brown, 1994, 249).



Glimpses of India provides a geographical study of the sub-continent. The film’s credentials are laid out in an early credit, which states that the footage has been ‘Approved by Professor L. W. Lyde, M.A., Emeritus Professor of Geography, London University’. Its remit is indicated by the first title card, which states that ‘India is a great country – great in size, history and buildings – great in her peoples and their religions – great in the wonderful possibilities of her future’.

The span of India laid out in the opening scenes, which begin by showing India’s southernmost point at Cape Comorin and then head 1,900 miles north to the Khyber Pass. The film provides facts and figures. Basic, but effective, graphics illustrate the size of the country by superimposing a map of India onto a map of Europe. Population numbers are represented by means of a pair of scales, which balance the figures for India against the combined population totals of Africa and the Americas (minus Peru, which is added to the Indian side). The film does not dwell upon the buildings and religions of India. These subjects are combined swiftly in successive scenes, which depict the Golden Temple at Amritsar, the Taj Mahal, and the Maharajah’s Palaceat Mysore. The ‘wonderful possibilities of her future’ are not fully outlined either. Unsurprisingly, the film does not refer to the political climate in India; nor does it address the advances in transport, urbanisation, education and media (of which it forms a part). Instead the film focuses on agriculture. We are shown various methods that have beenemployed to overcome the ‘serious difficulty of irrigation’, there is an outlining of various types of wheat, and there is an unresolved scene which ponders ‘Two of India’s conflicting problems – fuel and manure’.

Rather than addressing the future, Glimpses of India looks back to the past. Midway through the film we witness the ‘scene in a lane’, which claims to show ‘India of a thousand years ago’. What actually follows is documentary footage of Indians in a roadway, some of whom are carrying pots upon their heads. Three British men wearing western clothing walk into view, but no mention is made of them. The latter half of the film is concerned solely with the ancient nature of the sub-continent. This section is prefigured with a title card that reads ‘THE UNCHANGING EAST. Some characteristic scenes of Indian life’. Glimpses of India then turns to rural India to gather its evidence. There is an emphasis on folk culture, including the dances of Lambadi women – ‘the gypsies of India’ – and of the Oraons of Bihar – ‘simple folk, often animists in religion, living on the land’. We are shown an array of ancient practices whose backward nature is emphasised by exclamation marks in the title cards: ‘The dhobies still wash clothes by beating them on stones!’; ‘The barber’s is an open air occupation!’. Elsewhere these cards stress that the potter plies his ‘ancient’ trade and that the water carrier is ‘old’. Unsurprisingly, all of the camerawork takes place outdoors. This nevertheless furthers the portrayal of the basic nature of Indian life. At the same time the camera’s intrusion into these people’s lives is apparent. As it lingers over teaming crowds – another feature of the film – the people stare back at it, registering its presence.

Despite its display of academic credentials and its use of devices that intimate it will incorporate the full span of the country, the film’s glimpses of India take the place of a more diverse representation of the sub-continent.

Richard Osborne (June 2009)


Works Cited

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

Monthly Film Bulletin, 1/8 (September 1934), 62.



Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
15 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
1894 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
GORDON, Leslie Howard
RADLEY, Christopher A.
GORDON, Leslie Howard
RADLEY, Christopher A.
Production Company
Visual Education