This film is held by the BFI (ID: 20034).


INTEREST. The work of a district officer or magistrate in the province of Bengal.

Map of India showing the province of Bengal (33), rivers in the province (55), fertile plain, crops growing (70), modern communications - telegraph and tele- phone wires, roads, ships going down rivers, railways (96), typical town - the main street crowds, carts, bazaars, vendor making sweetmeats, ancient houses, the civic centre (232), the district officer settling matters brought to his court sessions. Flashback showing how the district officer started as a sub- divisional officer of the Indian Civil Service - the sub-divisional officer arrives to take up his post, he is shown his home, his duties include inspecting the military forces, the treasury and the gaol, dealing with peasants' petitions in court, visiting villages, inspecting crops, irrigation schemes and hospitals. He eventually becomes an additional district magistrate, then district officer (620). The district officer attends to problems brought to him. To help him, he has a body of administrative men who hold meetings at the village to settle local disputes. Officers responsible to the district officer, including the irrigation officer, the civil surgeon, and the police superintendent, make their reports to him (940). The district officer then has to make his report to the Chief Secretary at Calcutta (962). Back home, he entertains his friends, then retires to bed to study more reports until he is interrupted by an emergency call that a river has burst its banks. The district officer immediately sets out to supervise the relief measures (1116 ft).



District Officer was produced in 1945 by the Information Films of India (IFI), and distributed throughout the British Empire by the Central Film Library, Imperial Institute (London). The IFI was a state funded body producing war propaganda and the Indian News Parade largely with Indian personnel. Ezra Mir, the producer of this film worked both for the IFI and its predecessor the Film Advisory Board from 1940-1946 (the IFI was established in 1943). In this period Mir produced over 170 films both short documentaries (of 1,000 ft) and ‘quickies' (of 250 ft) working alongside Bhaskar Rao and B.Mitra (Garga 1987). The IFI produced material in English, Bengali, Hindi, Tamil and Telagu versions (Mahambare 2002:85; Bhattacharya 2001: 73).

The IFI initially focussed on wartime propaganda under the direction of the Information and Broadcasting department (Thapa, 1991, Roy 2002) However over time the IFI shifted towards more social, economic and ethnographic topics with titles like Tree of Wealth, Kisan, Rural Bengal, All India Radio, Child Welfare, and Country Craft (Holmes 1946). In 1948, the IFI was reconfigured into the new Indian state with the remit of producing ‘films for public information, education, motivation and for institutional and cultural purposes’ distributed by Documentary Films of India (Garga 1987: 25). Mir left the IFI in 1946 and went on to become a crucial figure in the post-independence film industry.

District Officers were a crucial element of the British administration in India. Recruitment had been extended to Indians from late Victorian times but their numbers grew particularly after Britain’s declared aim of self-government for the Raj in 1917. By 1929 there were 367 Indian Civil Servants to 894 Europeans and by the end of the war (the time of this film) there were 510 Indians to 429 Europeans. In part this was due to an ever increasing difficulty in recruiting Europeans.

By the end of the war and with the independence which had been promised in response to the Quit India campaign at hand, these Indian district officers began to make political alliances to carry them into the future. On 11th December 1946, Lord Wavell, Viceroy of India announced to the Cabinet of India’s committee that the Indian ICS officers ‘could no longer be relied upon to carry out a firm policy’.



District Officer shows the work of an Indian District Officer, who is part of the Indian Civil Service, as he mediates local disputes and manages local affairs in the district of Bengal. The film has a conventional two part form, the first section which lasts nearly 3 minutes, portraying the regional setting and moving from a map and statistics to generalised shots of the region. The second longer section of 9 minutes focussing on the individual who lives within this setting. ’The film uses an authoritative British male voice-over throughout to structure the scenes and which promises knowledge both of an unknown place and its inhabitants’. The ideology of the film is best described as liberal imperialism at the end of Empire. The general narrative is one of progress in which the historical reclamation of land from the sea which signals man’s triumph over Nature blends seamlessly into the new forms of transport and communication, particularly railways and telephones. Thus the historical facts of British conquest and domination are transformed into natural progress. The film was made two years after the disastrous Bengal Famine, caused not by shortage of food but by maladministration (Sen 1981). The film never mentions the famine but it portrays a picture of an efficient and humane administration that would never let another such disaster happen.

Within this general narrative of progress we are introduced to the District Officer administering the affairs of 3 million people and then in a flashback we look at him arriving for his first job. Both the initial shot of the District Officer appearing in a court and the flashback which has him dismounting from a train, has him emerging from an unknown and solitary space into a crowded social one. The emphasis from the beginning is that the District Officer is a man apart – one who through hard work and study is able to exercise judgment. He is a man without family or background – that is to say he is a man outside any history except that of progress. The progress is signified by the usual tropes of medicine and clean water bringing the natives out of a dangerous primitivism.

What is interesting about this particular film is how it portrays the liberal imperialist dream of India ruling itself without any British direction but in a completely British manner. There are only two Europeans portrayed in the film : the police chief who is shown as a subordinate of the District Officer and one of the army officers with whom the District Officer is on the level of equality. Perhaps the most evident marker of this absence comes when the District Officer goes to Calcutta to report to his superior. We do not, however, see this superior- at this moment the film anticipates an independence still more than 2 years away.

However, perhaps the most striking feature of this film is what it does not contain – any explicit discussion of Independence. We know that it is exactly in this period that the District Officers began to prepare for Independence by establishing political alliances with both the Congress Party and other local centres of power. Not, however in this film which represents an imaginary self government completely dominated by British norms and independent of any local context or contacts.

Perhaps the most enigmatic sequence of all comes at the end when for the first time we see the District Officer in an unofficial setting with his friends, a group judiciously made up of a Hindu, a Muslim and a fellow Westernised Indian. The scene coming just after the District Officer’s visit to Calcutta would exactly suggest a political discussion – but of that discussion we hear nothing. The film has high production values and many of the semi-staged scenes contain a great deal of period detail. There is a complex musical track using both Indian and European music.

Colin MacCabe (December 2008)


Works Cited

Bhattacharya, S., Propaganda and Information in Eastern India, 1939-45: A Necessary Weapon of War (London: Routledge. 2001).

Brown, J.M. ‘India’, in Brown Judith M., Roger Louis WM. (eds.), The Oxford History of the British Empire, The Twentieth Century, Vol. 4 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 421-446.

Brown, J.M. ‘Epilogue’, in Brown Judith M., Roger Louis WM. (eds.), The Oxford History of the British Empire, The Twentieth Century, Vol. 4 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 703-711.

Cell, J.W. ‘Colonial Rule’, in Brown Judith M., Roger Louis WM. (eds.), The Oxford History of the British Empire, The Twentieth Century, Vol. 4 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 232-254.

Garga, B.D. ‘The Indian Documentary’, Cinema in India, Vol. I, Inaugural Issue, (January 1987), 25-30.

Garga, B.D. ‘Hope revived: The Indian documentary’, Cinema in India, Vol.1, No.2, (1 Apr 1987), 24-28.

Garga, B.D. ‘The Indian documentary - Is anyone watching?’, Cinema in India, Vol.2, No.3, (1 July 1988), 26-30.

Holmes, W. ‘Postscript to India. An account of the work of Information Films of India’, Sight and Sound, Vol.15. No. 58, (1 July 1946), 43-45.

Hunt, R, Harrison, J. The District Officer in India, 1930-1947 (London: Scolar Press. 1980).

Hunter, W. W., The Indian Empire: Its History, People And Products (London: Routledge. 2001).

Mahambare, G., Dictionary of Films and Film Technology (Anmol Publications PVT. Ltd. 2002).

Monthly Film Bulletin, 30 September 1947, No. 165, Vol. 14, 134.

Roy, S. ‘Moving pictures: The postcolonial state and visual representations of India’, Contributions to Indian sociology, Vol.36, No.1-2 (Sage Publications, New Delhi, London 2002), 233-263.

Sen, Amartya, Poverty and Famines: an Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation (Oxford: OUP 1981).

Thapa, N.S. ‘All that's fit to film’, Cinema in India, Vol.2, No. 6, (1 June 1991), 38-41.




Technical Data

Running Time:
13 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
1100 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Production Company
Films Division, Government of India
Production Company
Information Films of India







Production Organisations