This film is held by the BFI (ID: 20033).


Scenes of the life of a farmer and his family in Maharashtra during the changing seasons of the year.



In 1943 the Film Advisory Board (FAB), the body that had been created to oversee the production of wartime documentaries in India, was dissolved and Information Films of India (IFI) was created in its place. Under this new organisation the Government of India assumed full responsibility for propaganda films. In addition, the government implemented the Defence of India Rule 44A, effective from September 1943, which required that every cinema in India show at least 2,000 feet of government ‘approved’ film at each performance. To ensure that the IFI’s films reached as wide an audience as possible they were issued in separate English, Hindustani, Bengali, Tamil and Telugu versions (‘Note for Cut Motion’). This closer governmental control of film production was a response to two main threats: the unrest in the sub-continent caused by the nationalist Quit India movement, and the growing seriousness of the war in south-east Asia (Garga, 2007, 97).

The Second World War deployed a large amount of Indian resources and manpower. By 1943, India was third only to Britain and Canada in producing goods for war supply (Jackson, 2006, 358). The number of soldiers serving in the Indian Army grew from 205,058 men in October 1939 to 2,251,050 in July 1945, the majority of whom came from rural areas (Brown, 1994, 319; Garga, 2007, 109). The war effort had its effect on the Indian economy, bringing with it both inflation and food shortages (Brown, 1994, 325). 

Among the Empire countries India provided the most serious opposition to Britain’s War aims. The outbreak of war witnessed the leading Indian political party, the Indian National Congress, resign from government rather than support the war cause, and in 1942 the party launched the ‘Quit India’ movement, demanding full independence for India.

This otherwise uncredited film was produced by the Prabhat Film Company ‘for the Films Division of the Government of India’ in 1945. Established in 1929, and based in Maharashtra, Prabhat was one of the major Indian film companies of the 1930s (Ganti, 2004, 16). One of its founders and leading directors was V. Shantaram, who left the company in the early 1940s and went on to serve as production chief at the FAB (Garga, 2007, 80). However, by the time the IFI was created Shantaram had resigned from his post (Woods, 2001, 293). His production duties were taken over by Ezra Mir, who gradually steered IFI films away from War propaganda towards films that dealt with the socio-economic and cultural life of Indian people (Garga, 2007, 108-09). In Rural Maharashtra, in fact, deals with both aims.

The IFI’s films were primarily aimed at an Indian audience (Brock 1945), but some of them also received a non-theatrical distribution in the UK. In Rural Maharashtra was reviewed in relation to its educational value by the British movie press, receiving qualified praise (MFB, 13 October 1946, 144).

Maharashtra is located on the western coast of India, but its size and status have altered over time. Until the seventeenth century much of the area that now constitutes. Maharashtra was under Mughal rule. The credit for founding the Maratha Empire is given to the general Chhatrapati Shivaji (1627-1680), who during his lifetime reclaimed much of India from Muslim rule. The British defeated the Marathas in the third Anglo-Maratha war (1817-1818) and subsequently most of Maharashtra became part of Bombay State. Following independence, demands were made for a unification of Marathi speaking regions under one state; Maharashtra was formed in 1960, becoming the third largest state in India. Agriculture continues to be the dominant occupation in the state, and the primary religion is Hinduism (Tikekar, 1966, 13-18).



In an article that actually praises the film, the Documentary News Letter stated of In Rural Maharashtra that it was ‘flung together, very uneven to look at and as haphazard as a film could be’ (DNL, 1945, 103). While the film is uneven, it is not casually made. What instead renders it haphazard is its contradictory aims. It attempts to provide a factual account of the rural life of Maharashtra, but this portrait is affected by the need to idealise this life. Furthermore, the film is complicated by its propaganda purpose: a need to encourage the drive for military recruitment.

Like many other rural documentaries about India (and indeed other locations), In Rural Maharashtradepicts a land that is unchanging. We hear of the ‘daily round, the same time for each new task each day’, and learn that ‘hundreds of years ago these families would have looked the same’. Various devices are employed to convey the circularity of this life. The film portrays a day in the life of a farming family, taking us from dawn until dusk. Within this conventional narrative structure we also get a movement through the seasons, from ploughing through to harvest time and autumnal celebrations. There is also a movement from the village towards the market town. However, the neat patterning of the film falters with the closing segment, which unexpectedly depicts a second excursion for the family, as they head out to a fair. It is here that military recruitment is mentioned for the first time.

Again, like several other Indian documentaries, this film stresses primitive farming methods: a milling wheel is of ‘ancient design’ and the village uses ‘one of the most primitive forms of irrigation’. However, it does take care to show working methods in some detail. Multiple camera shots are employed to show the processes of sowing, reaping, and food preparation. Although the location of the village is not given, the filmmakers do illustrate some distinct local features: ‘From the way these women wear their saris and the style of the temple, from the Banyan tree, we know we are in Maharashtra’. Similarly, the people’s festivals and customs are outlined carefully and with a restraint from condescension.

This film stresses harmony, both within the farming family and between that family and the land. Correspondingly, the actors are constantly smiling at one another. There is also a bizarre sequence in which the wife cradles a giant cauliflower and kisses it like a baby. Inauthenticity is apparent in other parts of the film. A dance sequence in the market town employs character actors, and in the cauliflower fields there is further choreography: a line of women pick their vegetables in unison.

In its review of the film the Monthly Film Bulletin complained that ‘some scenes were not only acted but idealised and one wonders how many of the rest suffered in the same way’ (MFB, October 1946, 144). This intermingling of fact and fiction serves one of the film’s purposes, however. It produces an image of a fecund land with a fecund people, ripe for recruitment for the War. There is attempted subtlety in the film’s introduction of its military theme. We first get a glimpse of an Indian in khaki at the celebrations in the market town. Next there is a display by the local regiment of Maharashtra soldiers at the local fair. However, the film tests our credulity by now arguing that the harmonious Maharashtra villagers are ‘first and foremost a martial people’. This is illustrated by cutting to a wrestling match, and then by recounting the story of Shivaji. The film attempts to reconcile its aims by returning to tradition, stating that ‘these twentieth century soldiers are dressed in khaki, but their ceremonial of departure is the same as it was in Shivaji’s great days’. The new characterisation of the Maharashtra people in these scenes, and the way in which these scenes affect the overall structure of the film, makes them feel as though they are  tagged on. As such, the film unwittingly conveys something of the intrusion of the War into everyday life.

Richard Osborne (October 2009)


Works Cited

Brock, R.W. (India Section, Far East Division), letter to A.H. Joyce (India Office, Whitehall, 26 February 1945). [document in India Office materials held at the British Library. File: L/I/1/692 ‘Films-India’.]

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

Documentary News Letter, 5/50 (1945), 103.

Ganti, Tejaswini, Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema (New York: London: Routledge, 2004).

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

Jackson, Ashley, The British Empire and the Second World War (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2006).

Monthly Film Bulletin, 13/154 (October 1946), 144.

‘Note for Cut Motion on 15th March 1944: Defence of India Rule 44A’ [document in India Office materials held at the British Library. File: L/I/1/686 ‘Films for Publicity’].

Tikekar, S.R., Maharashtra: The Land, its People and Their Culture (New Delhi: Maharashtra Information Centre, 1966).

Woods, Philip, ‘From Shaw to Shantaram’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 21/3 (August 2001), 293-308.




Technical Data

Running Time:
12 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
1090 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Department of Information and Broadcasting
Production Company