This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: CIN 200).


A brief look at an Indian Army Regiment (15th Punjab).

Material includes reveill; arms drill; bayonet practice; signals training (morse by flag, heliograph, shutter etc.); medical care; post office; pay; practice with Bren and Vickers guns. A sequence on Indian troops in the Desert War. Recreation (hockey, soccer, basketball, wrestling, traditional dancing), an Indian Pipes and Drums band. Commentary explains how army has overcome the divisions of India, and replaced some less desirable traditions - but also speaks proudly of other traditions, sporting achievements etc, and voices some anti-Mussolini sentiment.


Film: re-edited from A DAY IN THE LIFE OF THE INDIAN ARMY.



Indians gained their first taste of political power in the years immediately preceding World War II. The 1935 Government of India Act made provisions for Indian involvement in local government, and in the 1937 elections the Indian National Congress (INC) gained control of eight of the eleven provinces.

This devolution of power produced new tensions. The first-past-the-post methods of British democratic theory were not necessarily suited to a country with distinct religious minorities (Brown, 1994, 311). The INC was primarily a Hindu organisation and as a result the Muslim community was concerned about under-representation in government. Similarly, Sikhs were concerned about their levels of representation in the Muslim-dominated province of Punjab (Brown, 1994, 330-41).

Keith Jeffery has argued that Winston Churchill’s rhetoric in World War II ‘placed the Empire unequivocally behind the cause of democracy and freedom’ (Jeffrey, 2001, 307). Nevertheless, at the outbreak of war the INC resigned from local government, refusing to support the Allied cause. This protest has been attributed to the arrogant manner in which Viceroy Lord Linlithgow declared that ‘because Britain was at war India was at war’ (Jackson, 2006, 381). Historian Judith Brown, however, believes the action was a result of strains within the party and a need to regroup (Brown, 1994, 300; Jackson, 2006, 381-82).

The British government could be more assured of the support of the Indian forces. Keith Jeffery has written that ‘There were never problems recruiting for the army, nor serious worries about army loyalty’ (Jeffery, 2001, 442-43). The Indian Army grew from about 200,000 men in 1939 to about 900,000 by the end of 1941 (Jackson, 2006, 363). This army was poorly equipped, however. Ashley Jackson has stated that ‘At the outbreak of war the Indian Army was a dated force’ (Jackson, 2006, 364). He argues that ‘Modernization started perilously late’, adding that ‘The army’s transport and signalling were outmoded, it lacked mortars and anti-tank guns, and its cavalry regiments were still mounted (Jackson, 2006, 364).

India Marches was produced in March 1941 by Bombay Talkies for the Government of India and the British Ministry of Information. Alongside a companion piece, South Africa Marches, it was intended for distribution in Britain (Waley, 1942, 608). The respected Asian broadcaster Z.A. Bokhari provided the commentary for the film. During the war Bokhari was employed by the BBC Empire Service, where he included George Orwell  among his staff (Guardian, 19 January 2004). He would later head Radio Pakistan.



The purpose of India Marches was to communicate to a British audience that the army of the sub-continent was instep with the Allied war cause. There is a desire to depict both unification and modernisation. These two ideas are in fact collapsed into one another. We are shown an Indian army that shares the same up-to-date technology, training, medicine, communications and payment as western troops; it is depicted as a cog working in a larger machine. A further level on which unification works is in the removal of religious identity within this machine. The film concentrates on a regiment from the religiously diverse Punjab area. Nevertheless, we are briskly informed that ‘Thanks to army training, these Indian soldiers – Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs – live not as Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs but as Indians, who are proud to be members of a great commonwealth’. The common cause of ‘freedom and democracy’, and a common enemy of ‘tyranny and aggression’, are identified.

The use of an Indian narrator helps to authenticate the scenes that we witness. He also serves as an intermediary. The film opens with him saying ‘Indiasalutes you’, thus underlining the co-operative undertaking. The use of pronouns is subtle. A repeated use of the term ‘we’ further stresses the unity of India. At the same time it enables the film to depict some of the differences between the things that ‘we’ do and ‘you’ do. Such differences are restricted to the world of recreation, and even here there is as much commonality as there is difference. Thus while we are shown Indian wrestling and traditional dance, we also see the soldiers playing football, basketball and hockey: ‘It may be an English game but we have, so to speak, owned it for a bit’. The use of music is similar. The film features ‘native songs’ performed by the Pioneer Corps, and we are told that ‘your ears may find it difficult to grasp our melodies as ours do yours’. Nevertheless, we are also shown Indian troops having assimilated western melodies: the opening of the film, which has featured Indian music, is mirrored in the closing scenes, which feature the Celtic march of an Indian pipes and drums band.

The use of the authoritative Indian narrator is more problematic when highlighting the modernisation of the troops. As we are shown current military practice the commentator tells us how things used to be done. The soldiers’ use of heliotropes and semaphore is contrasted with older methods of communication - ‘the cawing of the crow, the mewing of the cat, and the howling of the dog’. Their regular remittance is compared with the way that they used to get paid - there is no longer a need ‘to kiss the ground seven times before getting it’. Elsewhere, the hardship of Indian existence is posited as an advantage. We witness scenes of the soldiers fighting in Libya and are informed that they will be alright because ‘they are used to a rough life’.

The film is structured around a day in the life of the Indian army. It begins with a bugler’s call at dawn and closes with the same bugler at sunset. The Indian soldiers’ day unfolds in the same manner as a British soldiers would, thus the commonality is further underlined. This device also has its oddities, however. There is a sudden shift from soldiers training in the subcontinent to them fighting in the desert campaign, and they are back home again in time for ‘relaxation’. Nevertheless, this shift is also illustrative of the sophistication of the filmmakers’ techniques. The transition is smoothed over by the fact that the soldiers are using the same weapons that we have seen them practising with earlier; they also fall into the same formations.

Reviewing the film the Documentary News Letter commented that ‘Technically, the film is adequate’, but complained that it didn’t tell us anything ‘which is not true of any regiment’ (DNL, August 1941, 149). This, however, is exactly what the film is trying to underline. The journal also commented dryly on the way in which this government-sponsored film portrays colonial subjects fighting on behalf of ‘freedom and democracy’; the same government that would have us believe that these Indians ‘would immediately start killing each other if they were given the said freedom and democracy’ (DNL, August 1941, 149).

Richard Osborne


Works Cited

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

Documentary News Letter, 2/8 (August 1941), 149.

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

Jeffery, Keith, ‘The Second World War’, in The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume IV: The Twentieth Century, ed. by Judith M. Brown and Wm. Roger Louis (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 306-28.

Waley. H.D., ‘British Documentaries and the War Effort’, The Public Opinion Quarterly, 6/4 (Winter 1942), 604-609.

‘When Orwell Did a Kilroy’, Guardian (19 January 2004) <>.




Technical Data

Running Time:
5 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
470 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
India, [GB]
Government of India
Ministry of Information
Bokhari, Z A
Production company
Bombay Talkies







Production Organisations