This film is held by the BFI (ID: 8393).


ACTUALITY. The Governor of Bengal, Lord Lytton, inspects the Governor's Bodyguard in Calcutta.

Main title. The Governor and his party get out of a car at the inspection ground, a wide expanse of grass and trees (30). Lord Lytton mounts a horse by means of some portable steps. He and two other men, all in military uniform and wearing pith helmets, ride past the Bodyguard, also on horseback in two lines (93). Lytton talks to two women - Lady Lytton and Hermione Lytton, both elegantly attired and standing in front of easy chairs set on a rug placed on the grass, with potted plants and a dog sitting in front of one of the chairs. Lytton chats to Hermione(?), who wears a large fox fur draped round her neck (143). The Bodyguard, on horseback, trots past the Governor, in a wide line (154). They trot past again, in two lines (170). Pan of the Lytton party, including two young girls, aged about 6 and 8 (187). More trotting past in formation (210). An Indian officer, wearing uniform and a turban, holds a medal on a cushion, which Lytton takes and pins it on the uniform of one of the Bodyguard (225). MCU Hermione Lytton and Lady Lytton, who holds the dog and they wave the dog's paws at the camera (262). Longer shot of the party chatting (279) `FINIS' (280ft).



Victor Bulwer-Lytton, the second Earl of Lytton, was Governor of Bengal from 1922-27. His time in office was recalled in his autobiography, Pundits and Elephants, where he speaks confidently of oriental characteristics and is convinced of the Indian’s difference from the Englishman. He states that ‘there are certain features which broadly differentiate Orientals from those who in India are called “Europeans”’ (Lytton, 1942, 1). Moreover, he argues that Indians and Europeans should retain this difference: ‘On the whole, the best rule for an Englishman when dealing with Indians is never to be other than English and not to expect an Indian to be other than Indian, and vice versa the same rule applies to the Indian when dealing with the English’ (Lytton, 1942, 4-5).

Politics in India during the mid-1920s have sometimes been regarded as a period of stagnation; the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, even talked of them being ‘in suspense’ (Brown, 1994, 231). This was not the case in Bengal, however. Here Lord Irwin had tried to implement the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms of 1919, which allowed for a degree of Indian rule in local government. Nevertheless, having invited the nationalist leader C. R. Das to become a minister, Das and his party refused to vote on the budget, with the result that Lytton suspended the reforms and governed without ministers for three years (Tomes). The most serious threat that Lytton faced during this period came from a resurgence of terrorism in Bengal. This concerted campaign involved attempts to murder the Police Commissioner and to blow up Lytton’s train (Lytton, 1942, 6). Consequently, Lytton campaigned for the instatement of emergency powers in Bengal. These were granted in late 1924, leading to the imprisonment of over 50 nationalist leaders, including Subhas Chandra Bose (The Times, 29 October 1924, 15).

Lytton did not particularly enjoy his period in office. He wrote that ‘Had I known then what I came to know later – that the discontented Indian Nationalists, whom I hoped to win by sympathy, did not want a sympathetic Government, but either a Government of their own making or one which they could abuse as tyrannical – I would never have gone to India’ (Lytton, 1942, 9). He also complained about the climate and its effects on his family’s health; about the lack of intellectual life in India; and about the level of entertaining he had to do (Lytton, 1942, 10-11). Lytton believed that during the 1920s Indians still lacked the ability for self-rule – ‘Politicians claimed that the people were ready to govern the whole of India, though they had never even tried to govern a village’ – his one positive achievement, he felt, was to ‘sow the seeds of a spirit of self-help’ (Lytton, 1942, 12). His critics argued that during his period in office he ‘spent too much time at Darjeeling [one of the hill towns that provided a retreat for British officials], pondering on the glory, mischief, and pity of it all’ (Tomes).

The actuality Annual Inspection of the Bodyguard by His Excellency the Lord Lytton was shot in 1925. Although produced by a British company, this film also constituted part of a ‘Calcutta Topical’, released in 1926 by the Indian company, Madan Theatres, which was at this time the largest distribution chain in India (Rajadhyaksha, 1986, 51). Madan Theatres was responsible for the first Bengali feature film Billwamangal (1919), the first Bengali talking picture Jamai Shashhi (1931), and was also the largest importer of films into the country (Sharma, 2004). During the silent era many of the leading Indian studios produced ‘topicals’, short films featuring recent events, which would be shown as an added attraction to the main feature film (Gautaman, 1996; Garga, 2007, 40). Although these companies documented some of the nationalist political events that were happening in India, their topicals were also preoccupied with ‘Social engagements, royal visits and arrivals and departures of the governors and viceroys’ (Garga, 2007, 40). Madan Theatres’ Calcutta series aimed to show ‘all the leading events of the season’ (Baker, 2009).



Certain elements of this film support statements that Lord Lytton made about his time in India, while others negate them. On the one hand, reflecting the unhappiness of his period in charge, Lytton does not look particularly healthy (he is painfully thin) nor does he look particularly comfortable with his role (there is awkwardness in his inspection of the guard: he requires steps and the help of three Indian soldiers in order to mount his small horse, and he makes an uneasy gesture once he is underway). On the other hand, the film contains no evidence of his purported belief in ‘self-help’. On the contrary, Indians are throughout witnessed in a subservient role. A young boy opens the door of Lytton’s car for him and, more obviously, the performance of the Bodyguard is in his honour. It would be unwise to read too much into this short film, however. It depicts a formal military inspection and does not appear to have been made to serve any political or propaganda purposes in respect of Lytton. Although it is tempting to regard Lytton’s Bodyguard as being a necessity, the disturbances of the previous year do not impinge upon the film. Moreover, it would be inapt to single out Lord Lytton for critique, his demeanour being better indicative of colonial authority in general.

Nevertheless, there is one element of the film that clearly mirrors Lytton’s beliefs: he and his family are never seen as being anything ‘other than English’. This is reflected most clearly in the clothes they wear. While the Indians in the film wear either uniform or traditional clothing, Lytton and his family sport up-to-date English fashions. This attire forms one of the main subjects of the film. The camerawork reveals the full elegance of Lytton’s frock coat, cane and spats, and of his wife’s fox fur and cloche hat. Although this clothing reflects a separateness from Indian life, it should not be forgotten that this film was shown to an Indian audience, who were presumably interested in the fashion items that are on display.

The majority of this film is shot in a fairly straightforward manner; scenes are usually taken from a single camera position. Nevertheless, the positioning of the camera always serves to reinforce Lytton’s authority, and by extension, that of the colonial power. The camera focuses primarily on him and his family. For example, during the inspection of the guard Lord Lytton is repeatedly framed in the centre of the screen even if this means that the lines of troops are cropped. The film features a section in which the Bodyguard canters past Lytton and his party. This part is cut so that it alternates between images of Lytton and point-of-view shots. Although such shots provide greater detail of the Bodyguard than we have previously seen, we still retain an awareness of Lytton’s presence: they are shot from the position that he occupies at the parade ground.

Richard Osborne (June 2009)


Works Cited

Brown, Judith, M., Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy, 2nd edn (Oxford: OUP, 1994).

Baker, Robin, ‘Meditheque: Annual Inspection of the Bodyguard by His Excellency the Lord Lytton’, 2009, <>.

‘Firm Action in Bengal’, The Times, 29 October 1924, 15.

Gautaman, D., ‘Foreword: 4th Mumbai International Film Festival’, 1996, <>.

Lytton, Victor, Pundits and Elephants: Being the Experiences of Five Years as Governor of an Indian Province (London: Peter Davies, 1942).

Rajadhyaksha, Ashish, ‘Neo-Traditionalism - Film as Popular Art in India’, Framework, 32/33 (1986), 20-67.

Said, Edward, W., Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient (London: Routledge and Keegan Paul, 1978).

Sharma, Biren Das, ‘Madan Theatre Ltd: Knowing the Company Better’, 2004, <>.

Tomes, Jason, ‘Lytton, Victor Alexander George Robert Bulwer’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,




Technical Data

Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
281 ft

Production Credits