This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: USA 32).


Part one of a double issue (part two - 'India at War') dealing with India's political state while under threat of Japanese invasion.

The film briefly outlines the various factions - in particular the Congress Party led by Nehru and the Muslim League under Jinnah (demanding partition) - united only in the desire for independence and to some extent in the policy of non-cooperation advocated by Gandhi. The problems of illiteracy, over-population, uneven wealth distribution are weighed against the achievements in industry, agriculture and education brought about by British rule, resulting in a vast war potential, which, since the rejection of the British proposals (Spring 1942) for self-government in return for cooperation in defence against the Axis, is still not realised. The world's future, it is suggested, may be affected by "India's inner struggle".



In November 1940 Rita Andre of the American film company, March of Time, requested the British government’s permission to make a feature that would cover ‘as much of the Indian scene as we can film, including India’s war effort’ (Garga, 2007, 87). The company was originally most interested in covering Gandhi’s means of resistance to colonial rule; however, by the time of the film’s completion in 1942 its remit had been expanded to take into account contemporary events. During this period the USA had entered the war and the political situation in India had intensified.

At the outbreak of World War II India’s leading political party, the Indian National Congress (INC), resigned from government rather than support the British War. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941 and the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, Britain was in increased need of the INC’s co-operation: the Japanese now posed a direct threat to India; the War required increased Indian resources and manpower; and there was also the need to placate American allies, many of whom, including President Roosevelt, were opposed to colonialism (Stockwell, 2001, 476). Consequently, in March 1942 the British despatched Sir Stafford Cripps to India with the aim of eliciting nationalist support. The resultant ‘Cripps Offer’ promised that, in return for co-operation during the war, India could have full Dominion status or the option to secede from the Commonwealth once the War had concluded. There was also a proviso that no part of India could be forced to join the new state. Disliking this opt-out clause the INC rejected the offer in April 1942, and instead embarked upon the open rebellion of the ‘Quit India’ movement. India’s other leading political party, the Muslim League, also rejected the offer. Cripps’ proviso is nevertheless an indication of their increasing influence. The party’s Lahore Resolution of March 1940 called for a separate and self-ruled Muslim homeland within the sub-continent.

March of Time began in 1935 as an offshoot of the magazine, Time, and quickly grew to be the most popular filmed news report of its day; by 1938 it was being distributed to around 11,000 cinemas world-wide (Bohn and Lichty, 1973, 377-78). The reports were innovative in style: mixing documentary footage with re-enactments of news events; using abrupt cuts rather than wipes and dissolves; employing dramatic music to underscore the action; and using commentaries, provided by Westbrook Van Voorhis, that did not always follow the visual materials (Bohn and Lichty, 1973, 379-81).

Despite concerns regarding how they would be portrayed, the British government endorsed the March of Time project, believing that it would provide an ‘opportunity to put across their idea of the benevolence of British rule in India to a global audience’ (Garga, 2007, 88). Filming of an approved script began in October 1941, when Maurice Lancaster, director of production, and the cameraman Victor Jurgens arrived in India (they would later be joined by the cameraman Robert Nabarro) (Garga, 2007, 88). The team remained in India for a number of months, shooting over 30,000 feet of film (Garga, 2007, 89). Rather than sticking to the original script they also filmed contemporary events. Nevertheless, the British government took the ‘calculated risk’ of allowing their footage to be shipped back to America uncensored (Garga, 2007, 89).

The final edited film was divided into two parts, India in Crisis (1942) and India at War (1942), each of which runs for twenty minutes. India in Crisis details the war situation and the various nationalist political parties, as well as providing background information about the sub-continent. 



India in Crisis provides a filmic equivalent of the Cripps Offer: it acknowledges Indian demands for independence, but at the same time wishes to enlist the country’s support for the War cause.

The film’s message is conveyed via its structure. Its military emphasis is in evidence in its opening, which outlines the dangers of an Axis attack upon India. Here, there is also an early outlining of the country’s population mass. The film then argues that India represents an ‘easy conquest’, the reason being that it is politically divided. This information colours its following sketches of India’s political leaders: Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah. The film then looks back, providing an historical outline of ‘the problem of India’. It is argued that Indian society is frequently incompatible with western forms of progress. Therefore, the blame for India’s lack of agricultural and technological advancement, which is the subject of the next section, is placed upon Indians themselves. The film then provides a contrast, outlining the prosperity of those areas of India that have adopted British democratic and technological methods. Finally, the film ties its themes together, arguing that a full utilisation of India’s manpower and resources, and a setting aside of political differences, could turn the War in Asia.

Despite its War aims, the film provides a more supportive view of Indian political ambitions that can be witnessed in British-sponsored films of the same period. It believes that any large colonised populace should have the ‘strength to throw off their conquerors and stand alone as a nation’. Indian leaders are accorded a significant amount of screen time and there is no use of disparaging language when describing their actions. The ‘sainted’ Mahatma Gandhi is described as being the ‘personification of the only unity India has ever known’. By closing with footage of Gandhi at his ashram, the film indicates that the future of the country lies with his actions. Nevertheless, in this film we do not get to hear the Indian leaders speak, and the music that accompanies their images could at times be said to indicate danger. The only Indian voice heard on the soundtrack is instead that of a radio announcer, who states that ‘The misunderstandings and mis-dealings among ourselves, and between ourselves and England, seem small indeed behind the magnitude of our present peril’.

Where the Allied war cause has most clearly affected the film is in its representation of British rule. The film argues that the British have ‘served to the betterment of millions of Indians’, and that they have ‘brought material progress’. It is even suggested that it is enlightened British rule, and not British repression, that has given birth to the nationalist movement: the introduction of democratic ideals has led Indians to demand ‘their share of freedom’, and nationalist leaders have benefited from British-sponsored education. Reflective of the film’s argument that Indians have gained an ‘ever-increasing measure of freedom’, British leadership is notable by its absence. Screen time in this film is predominantly given  to Indians; representation of the central government is conveyed by exterior shots of official buildings, and not by showing the British parliamentarians within.

To convey its message this film employs several of March of Time’s noted tactics. From its beginning it is dramatic, opening with a scrolling script which states that what follows is ‘so timely and so revealing that the story it tells requires extra time on the screen’. The opening footage splices material from various sources to create an imagined account of a Japanese air attack on India. There are further dramatised moments, such as the footage of the Indian radio announcer, and the turning of pages in an outsized book that purports to be the Cripps Offer. The film’s abrupt editing conveys both dynamism and the need for resolution. The commentary meanwhile offers a further perspective on the action, sometimes running counter to the film’s images. For example, in a passage that talks of the contrast between India’s wealth and poverty, we only get to see wealthy elements of Indian society. This practice wasn’t necessarily appreciated by the British press: the Monthly Film Bulletin complained that the commentary ‘is not in harmony with the film and does not keep pace with it’ (MFB, 1942, 136). Nevertheless, the British press was largely supportive of the way in which the film had conveyed Indian matters. The Cinema commended it for paying ‘high tribute to what Britain has done for Indian people’ (TC, 1 July 1942, 20), while the Kinematograph Weekly stated that it had done a ‘magnificent job’ of recounting India’s complex issues (KW, 9 July 1942, 23).

Richard Osborne (February 2010)


Works Cited

Bohn, Thomas W. and Lawrence W. Lichty, ‘“The March of Time”: News as Drama’, Journal of Popular Film, 2/4 (Fall 1973), 373-87.

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

‘India in Crisis’, Monthly Film Bulletin, 11:121/132 (1942), 136.

‘March of Time, No. 1, 8th Year’, The Cinema (1 July 1942), 20.

‘March of Time, No. 1, 8th Year’, Kinematograph Weekly (9 July 1942), 23.

Stockwell, A.J., ‘Imperialism and Nationalism in South-East Asia’, 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), pp. 465-89.



  • INDIA IN CRISIS (Year 8 No 1)
Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
19 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
1705 ft

Production Credits

Production company
March of Time