This film is held by the BFI (ID: 176294).


The town of Darjeeling, showing its life and work. Re-edited material from DARJEELING (Secrets of India series).

Censor certificate (18). Main and series title and credit (50). A map of India, Darjeeling is shown (91). Map of the train route from Calcutta to Darjeeling via Siliguri (117). The 2 foot gauge Darjeeling train: travelling shots of the train and views from the train (160). Tea plantations; tea pickers at work (203). The train - views of the train and views from the train as it passes the 8,000 feet mark and travels down to Darjeeling (250). Ox carts on the road by the train (263). Arrival at Darjeeling station (282). Map of Darjeeling town (301). View of the town (312). Map of town showing the bazaar (357). The bazaar - the market place; scenes at the market: HS of pot sellers and vegetable stalls (406). Closer view of vegetable sellers (429). A maker and seller of betel-nuts - a confection of betel leaves and sweet paste (452). A man buys earrings for his wife (495). Two Nepalese girls (500). Two Tibetan beggar women, the first with a prayer wheel (509). The two Nepalese girls as before (512). HS of a European couple who have adopted Indian habits and clothing (531). People walking in a street (546). A Tibetan music group (music not heard) (607). Market scenes (618). Map showing Government House (635). A ricksahw draws up at Government House gates (650). LS of Government House (664). Map showing Observatory Hill (678). Rickshaw pulled and pushed up the hill (743). A Buddhist shrine on the hill with prayer flags (754). A priest prays at the shrine (769). View of Himalayan mountains (791). Map of Northern India showing Darjeeling (798). The Himalayas (812). Map of India (830). Distribution credit (845ft).

Note: The censor certificate refers to the title as A FOOT HILL TOWN - DARJEELING. The actual title reads A FOOT-HILL TOWN.



A Foot-hill Town formed part of the Indian Town Studies series produced by Gaumont-British in 1937. This series of films was re-edited from documentaries that the company had produced in 1934 under the ‘Secrets of India’ banner. These original films were the side-project of a team who had filmed a flight over the Himalayas, which appeared as Wings Over Everest in 1934 (Low, 2005, 61). The director of the Everest project, Geoffrey Barkas, and one of the cameramen, S. R. Bonnett, also helmed the original version of this film, Secrets of India: Darjeeling A Foothill Town (1934). The 1937 re-edit contains the same material as the original but it is sequenced differently. It also received a more educational slant. Gaumont’s educational unit, Gaumont-British Instructional, was responsible for the distribution of this new version. The film was produced by Mary Field, the teacher and historian who had worked on the pioneering natural history series Secrets of Nature (1922-33), a series that also employed the talents of Geoffrey Barkas (Easen). The ‘supervisor’ for the re-edited film was G. J. Cons, head of the Geography department at Goldsmiths College, and a pioneer in the field of geography films for schools (Briault, 1960, 123).

The British developed Darjeeling as one of their ‘hill stations’. These towns, located in the cool atmosphere of Indian hills and mountains, served as retreats for the British during the hot Indian summers. In Dave Kennedy’s words: ‘To these cloud-enshrouded sanctuaries the British expatriate elite came for seasonal relief not merely from the physical toll of an alien culture. Here they established closed communities of their own kind in a setting of their own design’ (Kennedy, 1996, 1). The architecture of the hill stations commonly had affinities with the ‘quaint villages of a romanticized England’ (Kennedy, 1996, 3). Many of the towns were originally built up around sanatoria, but they increasingly served as places from which British officialdom conducted its rule (Kennedy, 1996, 4). Darjeeling was home to the summer seat of the Governor of Bengal.

The governmental retreat to the hill stations attracted criticism. Kennedy claims that ‘Indian nationalists pointed to the practice as evidence of the aloofness and arrogance of British rule’ (Kennedy, 1996, 5). This compounded criticisms faced by the Bengal government. During the 1930s the district was subject to nationalist uprisings. These uprisings were also fanned by the draconian ordinances that had been put in place by the Governor, Sir Stanley Jackson, in 1931 in an attempt to curb acts of terrorism. Jackson’s successor, Sir John Anderson, ratified the anti-terrorist legislation; the Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1932 gave a permanent basis to many of Jackson’s temporary ordinance measures (Wheeler-Bennett, 1962, 135). Anderson extended the system of ‘collective fines’, which were imposed on areas where terrorist members had been sheltered, and he considerably increased the number of troops in Bengal (Wheeler-Bennett, 1962, 135, 138). Both governors survived assassination attempts. The attack on Anderson occurred in 1934, the year of the original version of this documentary. He was shot at by members of the Dacca Anusitan Samiti at the Lebong race course, which is located near to Darjeeling (Dasgupta, 1999, 58-59). In various ways Anderson could be considered to be the more effective of the two governors. As well as organising the response to the nationalist agitation more thoroughly, he also attempted to rehabilitate some of the protesters, including one of his would-be assassins (Wheeler-Bennett, 1962, 143-44).

As the hill stations developed their demographic mix changed. They attracted wealthy Indians, who wished to partake in the lifestyle of the British Raj, as well as a wide variety of labourers who came in search of serving work. Darjeeling became home to Nepalese, Bhutias and Tibetans, as well as the ‘aboriginal tribes’ the Lepcha, Aka, Dhimal, Mechi, Murmi and Urava (Newman’s Guide to Darjeeling and Neighbourhood, 193-, 44). Inhabitants were also drawn to the area because of the work on the tea plantations.



G. J. Cons believed that ‘any director of geographical films […] needs to have an appreciation of the content and scope of human geography’. However, in A Foot-Hill Town, his account of the human geography of Darjeeling is circumscribed. While the film outlines something of the ethnic mix of Darjeeling and of the trades that are carried out in the area, there is very little contextualisation of the distinct political and cultural factors that drew people to this hill station. 

These omissions can be attributed to Cons’ own biases. He believed that ‘it is the adjustment of human groups to their environment that needs portraying’ and that ‘it is man in action in the region that defines the angle of vision for the selection of the sequences’ (Cons, 1935, 78). A Foot-hill Town attempts to bear out these beliefs. The film begins with the use of maps, which illustrate Darjeeling’s location in the sub-continent. The viewer is then brought towards the town in sequences that illustrate the journey along the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. Tea clippers are shown at work and the commentary states that the ‘moist warm air is suited for growing tea bushes’. There is also a useful panning movement that illustrates first the workers and then their geographical location among the clouds that gather in the mountains. The maps are regularly returned to; they effectively illustrate the fact that Darjeeling is a narrowly shaped town, built along a ridge in the Himalayas.

‘Man in action’ provides the main subject of the film. Here it is notable that A Foot-hill Town concentrates most fully on Darjeeling’s Asian population. The most extensive sequence is filmed in the town’s bazaar and features a variety of people buying and selling wares. The viewer is informed that ‘you can buy everything the Indian housewife wants’, and is duly shown the sale of earthenware, jewellery and the making of betel nuts, which ‘all Indians love to chew’. The film offers a deliberate ethnographical study of the various groups using the market, and the viewer is instructed to ‘notice the different kinds of clothes you can see among the people in the street and the different kinds of faces’. Singled out are ‘beggar women from Tibet’, ‘girls from Nepal’ and ‘Europeans who have taken to Indian life and clothes’ (here there is footage of a white couple who are dressed in robes).

Elsewhere there is less commonality between the Europeans and the Asians. In a contemporary Darjeeling guidebook travellers were informed that ‘The dandy-bearers and rickshawmen are either Bhutias or Lepchas’, and warned that ‘They are a dirty, impudent, extortionate set as a rule, but even so, like most hill-men, are “always merry and bright”’ (Newman’s Guide to Darjeeling and Neighbourhood, 193-, 48-49). In this film there is footage of these rickshaw-bearers at work, hauling two English visitors up the steep slopes towards Observatory Hill. To the accompaniment of overdubbed sounds the commentator states that the coolies ‘grunt and groan’, largely in the hope that they will get ‘a good tip’.

It is perhaps this focus on ‘man in action’ that encourages the film to downplay Darjeeling’s political role. There is footage of Government House (in which rickshaw bearers are also in evidence), but it takes up a brief amount of screen time. While it was being filmed it appears to have been unoccupied: the commentator states that this British-styled residence is the place ‘to which the Governor of Bengal comes in summer, when it is very hot in the plains around Calcutta’. There is no footage of the Governor himself, and in contrast to the footage of the bazaar these scenes are largely depopulated.

Some of the omissions in A Foot-Hill Town can be attributed to the material that was to hand. G. J. Cons believed that in the filming of a region ‘its most significant rhythms, daily and seasonal, must be carefully selected and then arranged in an appropriate time sequence to give unity’ (1935, 79). In this documentary, however, he was let down by the footage that was available. Although the film was re-edited to give a sense of journeying from the base of the foot-hill towards its peak, it has no temporal rhythm and there is little balance between its scenes. The Monthly Film Bulletin criticised the film on the grounds that the scenes of tea clipping ‘did not remain on the screen long enough’ and that ‘more of the geography of the surrounding country could have been shown’ (MFB, 1 December 1937, 262).

The journal is not critical of one of the film’s other omissions: using Cons’ own words, there is ‘no attempt to explain the causes of the phenomena depicted’ (1935, 79). Here, however, it should be borne in mind that the film was designed for viewing in the classroom, and that the same critique could equally be applied to films in the same genres with non-colonial subjects. Con believed that if contextualisation were needed, ‘it can be left to the teacher and the text-book’ (1935, 79).

Richard Osborne (October 2009)


Works Cited

Briault, E. W. H., ‘Obituary: George Joseph Cons’, The Geographical Journal, 126/1 (March 1960), 123).

Cons, G. J., ‘Films and Living Geography’, Sight and Sound, 4/14 (Summer 1935), 78-79.

Dasgupta, Atis, ‘Ethnic Problems and Movements for Autonomy in Darjeeling’, Social Scientist, 27/11-12 (November-December 1999), 47-68.

Easen, Sarah, ‘Field, Mary (1898-1968)’,

‘Foothill Town, A: Darjeeling’, Monthly Film Bulletin, 4/48 (1 December 1937), 261-62.

Kennedy, Dave, The Magic Mountains: Hill Stations and the British Raj (London: University of California Press, 1996).

Low, Rachael, History of British Film: Volume Six  (London: Routledge, 2005).

Newman’s Guide to Darjeeling and Neighbourhood, 9th edn. (Calcutta: W. Newman & Co., Ltd, 193-).

Wheeler-Bennett, John W., John Anderson: Viscount Waverley (London: MacMillan & Co Ltd, 1962).



Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
10 minutes
866 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
JEFFRYES, Reginald
Production Company
Gaumont-British Instructional
Production Supervisor





Production Organisations