This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: CIN 203).


A survey of the involvement of India's Home Front in the war effort.

An opening sequence of blackout, ARP practice and maps showing India's far-flung strategic frontiers (Egypt to Singapore) suggests the sort of involvement that could threaten in the future. The main sequence shows India's war industry at work backing up India's and the Commonwealth fighting forces to avert such a threat - "These men and women also fight: they fight the battle of the factories". Film shows production of gun parts and munitions, tyres, assembly of Indian-made vehicle bodies on US chassis imports, textile industries (cotton, wool and canvas) and medical supplies. A still wider variety of products is suggested with film of trains loading, shipyards etc. Other forms of support are mentioned: Princes' donations, 'war weeks.' A final sequence, of Indian servicemen, countryside and workers, accompanies final commentary on India's determination "to preserve her ancient, tranquil civilisation."



In July 1940, the Film Advisory Board (FAB) was constituted to oversee the production of propaganda films in India. Organised by the Government of India, the FAB was comprised primarily of leading figures in the Indian film industry. The production of films was partly funded by the British government’s Ministry of Information (MoI), who therefore had a say in the appointment of staff (Woods, 2001, 297). Disappointed with the quality of early FAB films, the MoI suggested that a British documentary expert should supervise production (Garga, 2007, 66-67). Alexander Shaw, a filmmaker of some standing, was duly selected and arrived in India in late 1940.

Shaw resigned after only 10 months in the post, claiming that this was ‘partly on personal grounds, partly because he was not accepted by the Indian industry’ (Garga, 2007, 80). His appointment had been widely criticised in the Indian movie press, and Shaw further believed that the Indian members of the FAB had wanted his efforts to fail (Garga, 2007, 69-70; Woods, 2001, 301). B.D. Garga argues that ‘Shaw was the right man for the job but had arrived at the wrong time’ (Garga, 2007, 70-71). His term in India coincided with a period of nationalist civil disobedience. Shaw had wanted to make films that addressed the political situation, but found little desire on anybody’s part for films by a British expert about the situation.

Shaw produced 13 original documentary films while in India, a high proportion of which address the War. The remit of Arms From India, originally titled Tools for the Job, is outlined in a pamphlet documenting the FAB’s films: ‘A brief yet comprehensive survey of India’s War Production is the motif of this documentary which concentrates on the manufacture of some of the lesser known War materials not covered by other films’ (IFI: A Brief Review of I.F.I. Releases, 1944, 29). During the War, all mill production of textiles, all factory production of leather and footwear, approximately three-quarters of steel output and over two-fifths of paper production in India were destined for the War effort, and by 1943 India was third only to Britain and Canada in producing goods for the Allied cause (Jackson, 2006, 358). This film also details India’s voluntary contributions to the War effort, both monetarily and in terms of military personnel. Despite the opposition of Indian nationalists to the War cause, the number of Indian recruits expanded rapidly: for example Army numbers rose from around 200,000 men in 1939 to around 900,000 by the end of 1941 (Jackson, 2006, 363).

Shaw wished to introduce more Indian personnel into the FAB (Woods, 2001, 294). This film was directed by Ezra Mir, described by Shaw as ‘an old hand at the film game’ (Garga, 2007, 73). Mir was a veteran of the Indian film industry, and he would later head Information Films of India, the successor to the FAB.  In India, the FAB filmswere dubbed into several languages, and were circulated to the country’s 200 English-language cinemas and 1,000 Indian-language cinemas. They were also distributed, via mobile cinema vans, to the vast rural population who provided the main source of military recruits (Woods, 2001, 299).

Shaw’s remit was complicated by the differing aims of the Government of India and the MoI. The former body was chiefly concerned with the reception of the FAB’s films in India, whereas the MoI was interested in their reception beyond the sub-continent (Woods, 2001, 298-99). The MoI desired that the films be shown in Britain, in other Empire countries, and also in the USA. These separate markets required different opinions on how both the War and Britain’s attitude towards India should be portrayed. It was believed that audiences in Britain did not wish to see films that depicted the War being fought for an imperialist cause, ‘since a fairly large body of opinion in Britain cares little for the continued existence of the empire’ (Haggith, 1998, 76). R.R. Ford, film adviser for the British Library of Information in New York, suggested that, for the USA, the films should depict India ‘as the arsenal of the East, but avoiding the impression that Indians have been conscripted to work like slaves for British interests’ (Garga, 2007, 77-78).  In the USA and Britain the Shaw-era FAB films were usually only accorded a non-theatrical release. Nevertheless, according to MoI figures, Arms From India had been shown to 210,000 people in Britain by March 1943 (Leach, 22 March 1943). The MoI also remarked upon the improved standard of FAB’s films compared with earlier productions (Leach, 22 March 1943). 



Three main themes regularly surface in propaganda films made in India during the early years of the Second World War: the danger of an attack by the Axis powers; the importance of devoting India’s industry towards the War effort; and the need to get more Indians to volunteer. This film is comprehensive in that it covers all three strands. It is also skilfully constructed, most of its scenes build upon one another, and there is stylistic balance (for example, there is a recurrence of people filmed using side lighting). Nevertheless, Arms From India covers too many themes and addresses too many audiences for it to be able to maintain an overall sense of coherence.

The film begins by depicting Indians drawing blinds and extinguishing lights for the wartime blackout. Here we can see the advances of this film upon earlier FAB productions. The filmmakers make dramatic use of darkness and light to underline their message, and they are also careful to couch the blackout in appropriate terms: India’s cities are described as going into ‘purdah’ at night. As well as being instructional, the blackout theme is employed as a means of illustrating the imminent possibility of an enemy attack, something that is then elaborated upon. By means of maps and footage of British and Indian military personnel, India’s strategic position is outlined, as is the need for the country’s vigilance. Here a parallel is drawn with the situation in Europe: ‘Sirens: England laughed at them until 1940’.

Having outlined the danger, the filmmakers are well placed to discuss the need and value of Indian support. The film now turns to its main theme: India’s industrial contribution to the War. It is here, however, that it begins to be pulled in different directions. In part, the film is clearly aimed at Indians; here it offers an alternative to John Milton’s ‘They also serve who only stand and wait’, instead maintaining that ‘with thread and bodkin these men and women also fight’. This boosting of the activities of the Indians who are producing War goods is accompanied by a stress that what they are producing is destined for India’s own troops: a roll call of goods is described and depicted; the viewer is then informed that they are being ‘loaded for Indian troops overseas’. Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that this film was retitled Arms From India, and this section also appears to have been constructed with a British audience in mind, as such it outlines the fact that out of the ‘40,000 items on the Ordnance shopping list, more than half are made in India’.

Similarly, the following section on the wartime support of Indians appears to be aimed at both Indian and British audiences. One of its purposes is to encourage Indians to recruit. Its most notable sequence features footage of a lone soldier, who is filmed from the neck down only. While he is being filmed the voiceover talks of recruits being drawn from all of India’s religions, and the decision not to disclose the soldier’s face the film encourages Indian viewers from all backgrounds to think that they could be the person to fulfil this role. Surrounding this sequence, there is an emphasis on the loyal support of Indians: mention is made of the donations made by Indian Princes, and we hear of the ‘hundreds of thousands’ who have volunteered for the Army. While aiming to encourage further support from Indians, these scenes also appear to be addressed to a British audience, reassuring them of the loyalty of the sub-continent.

The film closes as it began: stressing the imminent danger of an Axis attack. It also introduces a new theme here and becomes more openly contradictory. It is argued that, although India ‘excels in the arts of peace’, the country needs to go to war so that it can thwart the ‘barbaric ideals of the enemy’. We are told that the Axis powers would wish to disrupt India’s ‘ancient, tranquil civilisation’, which is depicted via the film’s first images of rural India. The film now talks of a ‘baffling material age’ that the Axis powers would wish to usher in. However, it is hard to forget that we had previously been shown modern methods of manufacture developed in India, ‘eighth industrial country of the world’, and that these had been developed for Allied rather than Axis ends; the film had also boasted about these wartime developments being ‘a symbol of India’s industrial progress’. In an attempt to reach out to those who would wish to preserve the traditions of India as well as to those who would wish to see the country progress, the film is not successful in reconciling its aims. Moreover, it should be considered just whom the film is trying to address here. It is possible that it is aiming to win over different parties in India, but it is also possible that it is addressing an American audience, aiming to illustrate the diverse ways in which Britain protected the interests of its colony.

Richard Osborne (July 2010)


Works Cited

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

Haggith, Toby, ‘Citizenship, Nationhood and Empire in British Official Film Propaganda, 1939-45’, in The Right to Belong: Citizenship and National Identity in Britain, 1930-1960, ed by Richard Weight and Abigail Beach (London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 1998).

IFI: A Brief Review of I.F.I. Releases [document in India Office materials held at the British Library. File: L/I/1/692 ‘Films – India’].

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

Leach, F. Burton (India Section, Empire Division, MoI), letter to J.F. Gennings (India Office, Whitehall), 22 March 1943 [document in India Office materials held at the British Library. File: L/I/1/692 ‘Films – India’].

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



  • TOOLS FOR THE JOB (Alternative)

Technical Data

Running Time:
10 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
373 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Film Advisory Board of India
Date, V V
Gibson, R V
Mir, Ezra
film editor
Mevavalla, N D
Wadia Movietone
Shaw, Alexander
Production company
Indian Film Unit
[Farrukhi, Sherroz]