This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: RMY 95).


Documentary on life in the Indian Air Force (IAF) culminates with a plea to Indian audience for more and better planes for the IAF.

At the headquarters of the Indian Air Force in the Punjab, Hawker Harts of 1 Squadron stand on the airfield representing the only armed unit of the Crown entirely officered by Indians. Squadron-Leader Mukerjee and his pilots, all Cranwell-trained, climb into their Harts and fly in formation. Over views of the quarters, bar and canteen similar to RAF barracks, commentary describes excellent facilities enjoyed by men and also their families. Meals are served on Royal cypher crockery in the airmen's mess, officers have their own room and a baby is weighed at the Child Welfare Centre. Parachutes are packed prior to supply canisters being dropped: a Hart drops a bomb with perfect accuracy, over remark that "the British Empire has already shown it knows a thing or two about accurate bombing". Another Hart swoops low to pick up a message from the ground and reconnaissance photos are taken. Back on the ground the planes are serviced and men relax off-duty in the gymnasium, playing hockey and swimming. "Famous" Vickers Valentia transport bomber is used for travels to and fro; Squadron-Leader takes off in Blenheim. Film from Universal and British Movietone News of a Battle of Britain dogfight is used to stress need for more planes and more men in addition to the 10,000 who have already volunteered in order to defend India from attack, suggested by final sequence of army air cooperation against unspecified enemy beyond hills.


Production: Bombay Board of Film Censors certificate dated 24 September 1940 precedes film and indicates length as 1110 ft.



Planes of Hindustan was one of the earliest World War II documentaries to be made in India and it was the second to be produced by the company Wadia Movietone, following their earlier He’s in the Navy (1940). For both films the same core crew of director, editor and sound recordist were employed.

These projects were initiated by Desmond Young, who worked as chief press officer and as a member of the war propaganda team in the Government of India (Garga, 2007, 60). Young was operating in response to a Ministry of Information request to produce war propaganda for distribution within India. In his autobiography he claimed that, before the War, documentary films ‘had never been seen in India, let alone be [sic] made’ (quoted in Garga, 2007, 63). To fill this void Young initially turned to British advertising agencies operating in India believing that ‘it was their business to know about selling through pictures’ (quoted in Garga, 2007, 63). However, the ad agencies knew little about making films and therefore enlisted the help of Indian film studios.

Wadia Movietone was owned and run by J.B.H. Wadia, one of the senior figures in Indian filmmaking. Wadia, a nationalist and a founder member of the Radical Democratic Party, justified his production of films that furthered Britain’s war aims by arguing that supporting democracy in the face of Nazi aggression ‘would definitely lead to independence for India too’ (Mulugundam, 2002, 70).

On Young’s instructions the early propaganda films were dubbed into various Indian languages, but he found that distribution within the sub-continent remained a problem (Young, 29 October 1940, 1). To that end in July 1940 India’s first official film body, the Film Advisory Board (FAB), was constituted. Its first chairman was J. B. H. Wadia and Planes of Hindustan formed part of the first catalogue of films. The aim of the FAB was to give the Indian public ‘films of interesting war subjects’ and others of ‘informatory value’. It resolved ‘to make every effort to see that all cinemas exhibit these films’ (Garga, 2007, 65). In order to help this drive the majority of the films were distributed free of charge. (Young, 29 October 1940, 2).

Because their films were aimed at a largely illiterate audience Wadia and Young were of the opinion that they should be easy to understand. Wadia argued that the films should be told in a ‘straight-from-the-shoulder manner’, adding that ‘If a democratic form of government, despite its imperfections, is more desirable than a totalitarian one, they [the Indian audience] must be reminded of this all-important fact over and over again’ (Garga, 2007, 72). In his autobiography Young stated that ‘if recruiting were to be extended beyond the so-called “martial classes”’ life in the services would need to be portrayed in the most simple terms (Garga, 2007, 63).

Within the Indian military establishment the air force was unique. As the film states, it was the ‘only armed unit of the Crown entirely officered by Indians’. The Indian Air Force (IAF) was established in 1933 and this film features one of its first five pilots, Subroto Mukerjee. By the time this film was made he was squadron leader and he would later become the first Indian Chief of the Air Staff. The IAF grew rapidly during the war, rising in numbers from 1,600 to 28,500 men (Jackson, 2006, 367). 



Even allowing for the working methods outlined by Young and Wadia, Planes of Hindustan is a crude documentary. The camerawork is often uncertain and there are some poor tracking shots. The film begins with an unsteady shot as the cameraman hurriedly attempts to follow the movement of a car towards a  hangar. Later there is a scene that is supposed to depict the ‘accurate bombing’ of the IAF; here it is the cameraman who misses his target. The film is also hampered by the speed with which it was made. Young only gave his producers six weeks in which to deliver their films. He later admitted that ‘It was a measure of my ignorance that I thought [this] should be ample time to make a ten-minute short . . . soundtrack and all’ (Garga, 2007, 64). A further drawback for this film was the material that was to hand. J.B.H. Wadia recalled the shock of the editor and cameraman of Planes of Hindustan in finding that ‘the total strength of the Royal Air Force Centre was four fighter planes, one of which he had to film from’. He adds that ‘to give the impression of a formidable force ready to meet the enemy’s challenge was impossible’ (Garga, 2007, 64). Instead the film relies on footage of Battle of Britain dogfights, which the commentary admits is taken from Universal and British Movietone newsreels. This footage strikes a discordant note in a documentary that is supposed to be about the IAF.

That said, the airborne sequences featuring the IAF pilots are among the more successful in the film. The cameraman seems to be more at home in the air than he is on land, and he captures some of the skilled manoeuvres of the IAF squadron. He also shows how dashing and self-assured these fighter pilots are. The four pilots have the nonchalance and something of the fashion sense of the British flying ace about them: one of them has a small moustache and slicked-back hair. They are also shown as being equals with the British military. In a scene in which they visit a British army officer there is no sense of them deferring to him.

It is this factor that marks the clearest difference between this film and He’s in the Navy. The earlier film is condescending in its treatment of young naval recruits; they are witnessed as being at the bottom of the military chain of command and their training is played for laughs. Planes of Hindustan, on the other hand, is proud of the fact that the IAF is officered by Indians and it depicts Indian personnel as being capable and mature; in place of the pratfalls of the earlier film we witness a ‘studious’ Indian officer in his book-filled dormitory. The senior Indian officers are shown sharing the same privileged life as their British equivalents. We witness them relaxing together in the officers’ mess and ‘rival[ing] each other as splash makers’ in a swimming pool. This is not to say that colonial power is entirely absent from the film. One scene depicts an elaborately dressed Indian servant working in the officers’ mess. His work is overseen by a white officer. It also emphasised that the crockery that the Indian officers eat and drink from bears the Royal cypher.

In certain respects the propaganda purposes of He’s in the Navy and Planes of Hindustan are similar. Both films are keen to depict the up-to-date methods and well-appointed compounds of the military in India. Planes of Hindustan comes unstuck in this respect: the dated biplanes of the IAF can be contrasted with the superior British and German aircraft visible in the borrowed footage. This, in fact, is where the propaganda purposes of the two films diverge. He’s in the Navy’s aim is to encourage more naval recruits; Planes of Hindustan, meanwhile, is concerned with gaining more planes for the Indian Air Force. In this respect the film is quite blatant. It directly addresses the Indian audience, saying ‘more planes, and yet more planes are needed. That is up to you, men and women of India’. The audience is warned that this increase is required for the defence of the homeland. The film concludes melodramatically, its commentary wishing that ‘the planes of Hindustan will so grow in numbers as to cast a protective shadow over the whole of this vast land’. However, it was events outside this film that occasioned the growth of the IAF.. In late 1941 Japan entered the war and the air defence of South-East Asia subsequently formed a vital part of the Allied campaign.

Richard Osborne (September 2009)


Works Cited

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).

Mulugundam, S., ‘A History of the Documentary’, (2002)

Young, Desmond, ‘Publicity through Films’, letter 29 October 1940, India Office Records, file L/I/1/684 – Films for Publicity Purposes General File 1939 and 1940.




Technical Data

Running Time:
11 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
1013 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
assistant editor
Hardy, Marcella
Pathy, P V (Dr)
Radcliffe Genge, G
Radcliffe Genge, G
film editor
Pathy, P V (Dr)
music performer
Melody Trio
Production company
Wadia Movietone
sound recordist
Tata, Burjore M





Production Organisations