This film is held by the BFI (ID: 11830).


The film show the day to day running of the Titaghur Jute company, which is in Bengal on the banks of the river Hooghly. Opening shot 360 degree pan of industrial buildings. 7000 Indian workers are employed, mostly women and children. There parks for the children to play. We follow the process from jute to cloth women working at looms in the factory (very dark), shots of power plant. Schools and workers accommodations. Shots of trains and boats, loading.



Long cultivated in the Bengal region of India, jute is a vegetable fibre that when processed is suitable for spinning into yarn. Jute cloth is coarse and is used commercially for making rope, sacks, and cordage. It can also be used to make other fabrics, such as hessian cloth, scrim and canvas.

Since the mid-nineteenth century the British jute trade has been centred in Dundee. The Dundee textile industry, previously based primarily on flax, developed jute processing techniques in the aftermath of the Crimean war, during which supplies of raw flax from Russia had become unreliable. The discovery that jute fibres gained strength and flexibility by steeping in whale oil gave the Dundee textile industry an advantage, since the city was also a whaling station. In 1839 Dundee obtained a direct trade agreement with India, and from 1840 began to import raw jute in large quantities (Heseltine, 1981, 40).

The Indian jute trade became concentrated in the Calcutta area. In 1855 the first of several Scottish-owned mills was established on the Hooghly River. By 1890 the Calcutta mills were matching the output of those on Dundee, and by 1913 they were exceeding them fourfold. Between 1900 and 1947, the number of mills on the Hooghly expanded from 35 to 106, and the number of workers employed in them trebled, from 110,000 at the turn of the century to 319,300 by 1946-7 (Goswami, 1991, 11). During the high point of its expansion in the 1920s, jute was India’s biggest export earner: in 1920-1 it accounted for 29 per cent of all exports, more than cotton or grain (Stewart, 1998, 13).

The film Jute was produced in 1923 by Thomas Duff and Co. Ltd, one of the ‘big five’ manufacturers who at the time controlled over half of the jute industry in Calcutta (Goswami, 1991, 15-16). Born in Dundee, Duff had been involved in the jute trade in Calcutta since 1859, when he had first been employed by the Borneo Jute Company. In 1872 he opened the first of three of his own mills on the Hooghly River, the Samnuggur. It was followed by the Titaghur (1883), which provides the location for this film, and the Victoria (1885) (Wallace, 1928, 36, 45). Although this film states that Thomas Duff and Co. owned ‘nearly 5,000’ mills/looms in 1923, this is possibly an exaggeration. D.R. Wallace, author of the first history of the jute industry, calculated that their total number of looms in 1927 was 3,360 (Wallace, 1928, 96-97).

The Titaghur mill was a leader in worker welfare: in 1923 it was alone in starting a scheme to provide medical welfare for women workers, focussing on midwifery, childcare, and hygiene (the Duff Co. had unsuccessfully tried to convince several other local mills to adopt the scheme) (Sen, 1999, 167). While this appears philanthropic (and probably was in part a response to general public concerns about welfare and health) it was also driven by expediency, particularly the attempt by the mills to postpone the Maternity Benefit Act (eventually passed in 1929) by arguing that they could voluntarily provide health benefits for female workers which would obviate the need for legislation (Sen, 1999, 163-76).



Jute has two main sections. The first explores the production of jute in Titaghur mill number two. The second, entitled ‘The Indian Workman’, outlines the employment conditions for workers at the factory.

These sections are constructed in different ways. The first of them is broken down into two parts. It opens with panoramic shots of the factory compound, followed by footage of barge repairs. Its second part follows one of the standard patterns of the industrial film: it covers the manufacturing process in detail and in chronological order. One of the aims of many industrial films was to demystify methods of production for an audience that was buying mass-manufactured goods (Peterson).

There are other aspects to this film’s portrayal of the jute production process. It stresses the up-to-date techniques used at the factory. A title card indicates that the mill is ‘worked on the most modern lines’. We are further informed that the mill is ‘often visited by distinguished visitors to India’, that ‘The Engine Room of this Mill is recognised as one of the finest in India’ and that the plant ‘compares very favourably with any similar lay-out in the British Isles’.

These latter title cards indicate that the film was perhaps intended for a British audience. However, this stress upon the forward-thinking nature of Thomas Duff & Co. Ltd takes on a different light during the ‘Indian Workman’ section of the film. Here the title cards boast of ‘Modern Sanitation’ and ‘Septic Tank Latrines’. They outline the difference between a ‘Typical Indian Hut’ compared with ‘present day accommodation provided for workers’. This section of the film also features the workers’ playground, the company’s school and, in a staged scene, a white nurse instructing a group of Indian women about ‘abnormal labour’. The section concludes with an ethnographical shot of ‘A Happy family’, in which an Indian woman holding her child faces the camera, eventually breaking into a broad smile.

The second section of the film can be seen as a response both to the threat of welfare legislation that would limit the flexibility of the workforce (sickness compensation was also an issue, hence, perhaps, the focus on sanitation) and to contemporary public concerns with welfare and conditions. This also explains the sequence showing new mothers taking their babies into the factories to attend to their ‘modest needs’: given the lack of acceptable childcare within the mills and the ambiguous nature of maternity and other employment rights this was of course a necessity rather than a luxury, but the film presents it as illustrative of a concern with family welfare.

Although Jute aims to show Thomas Duff & Co. Ltd in the most positive light, viewed today this intention is undermined by the film’s structure and by its content. One of the film’s title cards claims that ‘The comfort and welfare of the Indian Workers employed at these Mills are the first consideration of the Company’. This is not necessarily borne out in the structure of the film itself: it is the workings of the factory’s machinery and the processing of jute that are prioritised within the film’s chronology; jute processing is in addition given the largest proportion of screen time (however, these are in part generic conventions).

The film is revealing in other ways: we see that the regime in the factory mirrors that of the British Raj. British rule in India was one in which the many were governed by the few: at the beginning of the twentieth century nearly 300 million Indian subjects were administered by fewer than 1,000, mostly British, members of the Indian Civil Service (Louis, 2001, 5-6). In this film we witness the 7,000 workers of the Titaghur company’s mill being overseen by 15 male European staff, to whom 44 Indian clerical staff are subordinate. Further examples of the hierarchy of the company are in evidence. The European staff are given a matching uniform of white suits and pith helmets; their role appears to be the passive monitoring of the mill’s engines and of the Indian staff. The Indian clerical staff have no set uniform; most are wearing dhoti, some have western-style jackets. The workers in the factory are in traditional Indian clothing. Their work and play contrasts strongly with the behaviour of European staff. We witness two workers cutting jute on an open steel blade; we also witness two, near naked, Indians in a wrestling match. There is also a clear separation between male and female workers in the factory. Furthermore, although the workers’ homes are portrayed as an improvement on the typical Indian hut, they are also seen in close proximity to the mill; part of the compound that had been coolly surveyed by the camera at the film’s beginning.

Richard Osborne and Francis Gooding (May 2010)


Works Cited

Goswami, Omkar, Industry, Trade and Peasant Society: The Jute Economy of Eastern Bengal (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991).

Heseltine, R. G., The Development of Jute Cultivation in Bengal (Ph.D. thesis: University of Sussex, 1981).

Louis, Wm. Roger, ‘Introduction’, 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. 1-46.

Peterson, Jennifer Lynn, ‘Industrial Films’, http://www.bookrags.com/tandf/industrial-films-tf/.

Sen, Samita, Women and Labour in Late Colonial India: The Bengal Jute Industry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

Stewart, Gordon T., Jute and Empire: The Calcutta Jute Wallahs and the Landscapes of Empire (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998).

Wallace, D.R., The Romance of Jute: A Short History of the Calcutta Jute Mill Industry 1855-1927 (London: W. Thacker and Co., 1928).



  • JUTE

Technical Data

Running Time:
31 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
1882 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Thomas Duff & Co