This film is held by the BFI (ID: 155621).


Travelogue of Delhi.

Main title and credits. Map of India, which zooms in on Delhi. Fade to view of plains near Delhi. Panning movement towards ruins. Commentary talks of the successive cities of Delhi. Tomb of Nasiruddin Muhammad Hymayun. Victories of Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar commemorated in domes, arches and an iron column. The Qutb-Minar tower of victory, 238 feet high. The Great Mosque of the Moghuls, commemorating the Muslim invasion. Muslims wash face and hands in pools at the mosque. The Pearl Mosque, 'pinnacle of Mogul art in Delhi'. Indian women in brightly coloured saris in the palace gardens. Description of saris and of the 'pujah', that Brahmins wear on their brows. Indian men and women relaxing in the palace grounds. British man in army uniform blowing bugle. Cut back to the palace garden. Cut back to bugler. Cut back to palace garden, cross-fade removes people from the scene. Indians marching in khaki uniforms. Indian directing traffic in New Delhi. Description of new city. Woman in sari gets into soft-top VW Beetle. Connaught Place, 'the business centre of the modern Delhi'. Description of architecture as being a British-Indian mix. Views of the House of Assembly and its grounds, and talk of combined British, Muslim and Hindu rule. Tracking shot following woman in sari who walks by a pool in New Delhi's public squares. Steps of new building showing both British and Indian people present. Indian gardener watering bushes. View of governmental buildings and gardens. 180 degree pan showing vast grounds of the 'ninth enduring city'.



Delhi is one of a number of travelogue films made by the company World Window in the late 1930s. The company was the brainchild of the wealthy husband and wife team F.W. Keller and E.S. Keller. Inspired by the results of their own amateur travel films, the Kellers sought out a film crew to make professional travelogues, beginning with a series of films shot in Europe and then later filming in Asia (Cardiff, 1996, 50). The team that the Kellers put together included the director and editor Hans Nieter and the renowned cinematographer Jack Cardiff. World Window was formed specifically to produce these ten-minute documentaries, which were distributed in both Britain and America by the American company United Artists.

Delhi has been continuously inhabited since at least the 6th century B.C. and it is the location of a series of archaeological sites and remains. The city has frequently served as the capital of India, holding this position for the Mughal Empire from 1649 to 1847, for the British from 1911 to 1947 (Calcutta had earlier been the capital of British India), and for the Republic of India from 1947 up to the present. After the British selected the city as their capital they commenced building the political and administrative district of ‘New Delhi’, set among the ruins of earlier habitations. The design was primarily the work of the British architect Edwin Lutyens, who built in a style that united European and Asian architecture. Its main basis, however, was in the western classical tradition. For Lutyens, it was this architectural language that best represented ‘the ideal of British Empire’ (Irving, 1982, 9). Rather than imitating what he called the ‘weird rhythm’ of Indian architecture, Oriental aspects were incorporated into his system but were not allowed to determine it (Irving, 1982, 7).

Robert Grant Irving claims that Lutyens’ design ‘was meant to be a telling affirmation of power and of the passionate British resolve to bring order to India’; he adds that, ‘by February 1931, and official completion of the city, many realized New Delhi’s inaugural celebrations were but a requiem for that dream of ordered dominion’ (Irving, 1982, 23). The inter-war period in India was marked by a series of clashes between the British government and Indian nationalists, which by the early 1930s were taking the form of widespread civil disobedience. The period also witnessed marked gains in Indian political power, culminating with the 1935 Government of India Act, which agreed in principle to a ‘Federation of India’ and also granted a large degree of autonomy to the provincial governments. This film of Delhi was shot in 1938, a year after the local elections which had seen the Indian National Congress assume majority power in several of the provinces. By 1939, however, Congress had withdrawn its co-operation in government and the plans for a federation had been abandoned. Georges Clemenceau predicted a similar future for Lutyens’ New Delhi, which he had witnessed emerging among archaeological remains. He stated that ‘This will be the finest ruin of them all’ (Irving, 1982, 23).



Filmed in 1938, less than a decade before Indian independence, Delhi has a curious tale to tell. ‘Delhi’, the viewer is informed, ‘is the cockpit of the Indian Empire’, it provides the  ‘gateway to the riches of the south’. The opening sections of the film focus upon those who have tried and failed to establish a lasting power in the capital. ‘At Delhi’, the commentator states, ‘successive cities have been built by conquering invaders – each has fallen into disuse and decay’. The camerawork focuses on the ‘impressive ruins’ of these earlier invaders. Although the film also depicts the enduring architecture of Muslim rulers, such as Akbar and Shahjahan, it is stressed that their power has been superseded. Legend has it that it will be the ninth city of Delhi that ‘will endure and will rule forever’. Shahjahan had built the eighth.

Two thirds of the way through the film we get a dramatic interjection. Shahjahan’s old Delhi has been depicted as a city in which ‘the pursuit of happiness is expressed in languor’. The film has shown the doleful courtly rituals of high caste Brahmins, who stroll and relax among the old palace gardens. But then there is a sudden change. A jarring cut provides us with the image and the sound of a British soldier blowing his bugle. There is a then a cut back to the palace gardens, still filled with perambulating Indians, but then a cross-fade removes these people from the scene. And then there is a cut back to the bugler. Military music commences and there is then footage of marching Indians in khaki uniforms. British power has arrived. It is the Raj that will witness the ‘ninth enduring Delhi’.

This eternal city is represented with images of Lutyens’ architecture. There is extensive footage of Connaught Place and of the new governmental buildings and grounds. What marks this film out, however, is that it envisages the future as being a combined British and Indian endeavour. The film depicts the new House of Assembly where, it states, ‘British, Muslims and Hindus combine in governing’. The film then argues that this ‘spirit of the new and vital Delhi’ has been ‘externalised in a new style of architecture, deriving its inspiration not from one tradition but from two, moulding the culture of two continents’. It is notable that the film does not mention the dominant hand that Lutyens played in this architectural design. Also notable are the characteristics that the film attributes to each country. Old Delhi is depicted as a place of ‘extreme lassitude’, while the New Delhi is ‘dynamic’. Indian architecture is ‘beautiful’ and ‘almost effeminate’; the British have introduced the ‘austere geometry of modern architecture’. The film talks of a ‘neo-Indian’ Delhi, which is represented by an image of an Indian woman driving a Volkswagen Beetle.

The film’s commentary argues that ‘British and Indians are co-operating to carve out a nobler future for this Delhi than was possible under the despotism’. Its images, editing and structure do much to undercut this statement, however. First, there is little evidence of co-operation: instead Indians and British are depicted as being ‘others’. They dress differently, act differently, and are not witnessed interacting. Secondly, the film emphasises India’s continuing traditions, not its future. The Indians who are on most prominent display are the women who walk among the palace gardens, just as in times past. Thirdly, the British that we see are hardly non-despotic. They are introduced by means of military images, and most British people are seen in army uniform. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the British era is introduced with sudden and jarring images; the editing here argues against compatibility with Indian life. Finally, the film is undercut by its own narrative structure. It covers successive periods of power and successive styles of architecture - is the viewer really to believe that this ninth incarnation of Delhi will be the one that endures forever?

Richard Osborne (October 2009)


Works Cited

Cardiff, Jack, Magic Hour (London: Faber and Faber, 1996).

Irving, Robert Grant, ‘Architecture for Empire’s Sake: Lutyens’ Palace for Delhi’, Perspecta, 18 (1982), 7-23.




Technical Data

Running Time:
11 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
Colour (Technicolor)
950 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
BRAU, Ludwig
Production Company
United Artists
Production Company
World Window
Sound Re-recording
Western Electric Mirrophonic