BASSEIN : an Indian fishing village

This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: CIN 237).


Short documentary about Bassein, a fishing village 25 miles north of Bombay on the shores of the Arabian Sea.

The film shows the family of a fisherman, one who owns his own boat. After he has set out for the day the camera observes village activities - the women collecting wood and drying fish, the children operating the village spinning-machine, and an old man using the thread to mend nets. A boat is overhauled and repainted. A Portuguese ruin, "a monument to past glories", provides a stone well which is still used by the natives. The villagers also retain the religion of the Portuguese, and they are seen at prayer - the wife prays for the safety of her husband at sea. The scene then shifts to the fishing boats, where the nets are hauled in and the return voyage begun with the turning of the tide. Once ashore, the fish are dressed, and bargains struck with the merchants who come to buy the catch. The fish are then loaded onto trucks for shipment to the Bombay market. With the day's work over, the fishermen relax. End shot, sunlit sea.


Remarks: a very idyllic portrait of village life. However, the appearance of the merchants strikes a rather discordant note, which might indicate that the real situation is closer to that depicted in COI 615 (qv).



Bassein: An Indian Fishing Village, a documentary shot towards the end of British rule in India, harks back to the beginnings of European colonisation of the sub-continent. Bassein is located on the western coast of India in the stretch that was first colonised by the Portuguese in the 15th century. The film features one of the forts that the Portuguese built to protect their trading interests in the area. It also takes note of the Catholic religion still practised by the villagers, a remnant of this first period of European influence.

The film was released in 1946, the year before Indian independence. It was one of the last films produced by the Government of India body, Information Films of India (IFI). IFI had assumed responsibility for propaganda films in 1943 in response to two main threats: the growing seriousness of the war in South-East Asia, and the unrest in the sub-continent caused by the nationalist Quit India movement (Garga, 2007, 97). Its aims were furthered by the Defence of India Rule 44A, effective from September 1943, which required that every cinema in India show at least 2000 feet of Government ‘approved’ film at each performance.

Despite its political motivations, the IFI made some positive contributions to Indian filmmaking.  AAlex Shaw, the British film director and producer, had been executive producer at its independent forerunner, the Film Advisory Board. In contrast, the IFI  was headed by Ezra Mir, an Indian filmmaker. Alongside the war propaganda films, Mir encouraged the production of documentaries that would depict aspects of Indian culture and industry. It was his belief that as Indians approached independence they needed to be made aware of their heritage and of their arts (Garga, 2007, 108-09). While IFI’s military films had been shunned by both audiences and critics, Mir’s documentaries of national life gained greater popularity and acclaim (Garga, 2007, 110-11; Holmes, 1946, 44).

The constitution of IFI began to reflect these national interests. Winifred Holmes, who worked for the organisation during 1945, noted that IFI ‘became more and more all-Indian during its years of growth, until when I worked in it last year, all but three of the production and administrative staff were Indian’ (Holmes, 1946, 43). Bassein: An Indian Fishing Village is nevertheless a combined Anglo-Indian production. The film was directed by the Bombay-native Krishna Gopal, while the sound recording and commentary were handled by British employees, Ken Cameron and Peter Madden. The music for the documentary was shared between Indian and British composers. The film was also shown in both countries. The British journal Monthly Film Bulletin reviewed Bassein: An Indian Fishing Village, stating that it is ‘a pleasant and interesting film’ that ‘would be of interest to Geographical societies’ (MFB, 1947, 147).

The British government had been keen to see the work of IFI continue after the war. However, despite the changed emphasis in its filmmaking, IFI remained unpopular with the independence movement; its image tainted by its association with Britain’s military aims. The interim post-war Indian government, dominated by nationalist leaders, brought an end to IFI. They cut its funding and withdrew the Defence of India Rule 44A (Garga, 2007, 114-15).



B.D. Garga has praised the documentaries of IFI for helping to make an Indian audience ‘aware of their own country’; however, he also points out that ‘Because of limitations, these films were neither comprehensive nor analytical’ (Garga, 2007, 115, 114). This latter statement is certainly true of Bassein: An Indian Fishing Village. The film has two main subjects: the fishing industry of the village, and its colonial past and future. Neither is investigated in detail.

The fishing trade provides the main subject of the film. Here we get to see some of the old traditions. The fisherman who owns his boat is entitled to wear a silver belt, and we learn of the folk songs that the crew sing at the end of their day’s work. We also learn about the division of labour. While the fishermen are out at sea their wives dry the previous day’s catch and fetch firewood. Meanwhile, the children make and mend nets using ‘the only machine in the village’. Nevertheless, despite the presence of Bombay traders towards the end of the film, the profitability and future prospects of the fishing industry are never outlined.

What we see instead is an idyllic portrait of village life. The sea is shown as beautifully glistening water and the fishing work is portrayed as being a harmonious co-enterprise. The film focuses on one particular family: a fisherman, his wife and their daughter. They come across as being the most compatible family on earth, and we repeatedly get to view their adoration for one another.

By emphasising this pastoral bliss the film puts on show a life and a love that will outlast changes in power. But it is the film’s portrayal of colonial history that is its most interesting aspect. In a film shot towards toward the end of the British Empire we get a depiction of Portuguese colonisation in ruins. The women of the village go to collect water from a well in the neighbouring abandoned fort. We are informed of former Portuguese rule and learn that during their occupation their traders ‘grew rich and powerful’. The film then grows curiously melancholy as it depicts the ruins and talks of the fact that as Portuguese ‘power waned […] their buildings were left to decay in India’s encroaching jungle’. This segment closes with an image of a Portuguese grave, ‘ a monument to past glories’. The shadow of one of the Indians then falls across it and they raise their hat in honour.

No mention is made of British colonisation. Instead there is a cut to a lively scene of the Indian women fetching water. We are informed that ‘the wells remained’ and that, by implication, life went on. Later in the film there is a scene of young children playing with toy boats; another image that speaks of continuing traditions. Nevertheless, the film also admits that some of these traditions have been inherited from colonial rule. We learn that the Portuguese left behind their Christian religion; at this point there is a depiction of the doting wife praying at her altar for her husband’s safe return.

In its portrayal of colonisation this film’s lack of analysis can actually be considered a strength. Bassein: An Indian Fishing Village is quietly eloquent about both the transience and the lasting effects of colonial rule.

Richard Osborne (September 2009)


Works Cited

‘Bassein Village’, Monthly Film Bulletin, 14/166 (14 October 1947), 147.

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

Holmes, Winifred, ‘Postscript to India: An Account of the Work of Information Films of India’, Sight and Sound, 15/58 (Summer 1946), 43-45.



  • BASSEIN VILLAGE (Alternative)
  • BASSEIN : an Indian fishing village

Technical Data

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

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Central Office of Information
Government of India
Madden, Peter
Gopal, Krishna
film editor (cutter)
Camp, Alex
music composer
Easdale, Brian
music composer
Menon, Narayana (Dr)
Gopal, Krishna
Production company
Information Films of India
sound recordist
Cameron, Ken





Production Organisations