This film is held by the BFI (ID: 14190).


Indian village life including a Brahmin initiation ceremony and a Hindu wedding.

Peasant life in a village in Rajputana. Early morning in the village; worshippers enter a Hindu temple as a gong is sounded (155). The village well; peasants, though poorly clothed are particular about personal hygiene; they wash beside the well and their teeth with twigs pulled from trees (210). Weaving and spinning (310). Hand block printing onto cotton (348). A Hindu superstition - a man and his wife prepare to leave their house but as they turn into the rod the man sneezes as he passes their gate, so they turn back into the house because this is an evil omen (379). This village is peopled by Brahmins: the women of this highest caste at the village well; an old man begs water from them. Because his touch will contamination any drinking vessel the water is poured into cupped hands (411). Second Hindu superstition - the same man and his wife leave and sea cat sitting on a wall; this evil omen is cancelled by the good omen of a woman passing by carrying a water pitcher on her head (442). The villages enjoy a wrestling bout (543). A marriage procession; the oldest married woman in the community bestows the `pujah' (?) the Brahmin caste mark consisting of a red dot placed in the centre of the forehead (625).Two small boys are initiated into the community of adult worshippers - Brahmin priest places necklace around their necks; the sacred rules of the Brahmin are whispered to them (706). Night time celebration of a Hindu wedding at which a small band is playing; the bride and groom (760). Fire breaks out and the villages run from the burning buildings (860). Next day the villagers return to survey the remains from which a new village will rise (929ft).



A Village in India 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 Keller’s 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 John Hanau, 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.

The films are notable for their employment of Technicolor film. Jack Cardiff was one of the early masters of this system, and would later receive a cinematography Oscar for his recreation of India in Black Narcissus (1947), a film that was shot entirely in the studio. When approached by the Kellers he had warned them of the difficulty and expense of using Technicolor equipment in the field. The couple acceded to his requests for a support crew, tracking dolly, camera crane and well-upholstered van (Cardiff, 1996, 50).

The name of the village that the World Window team filmed in 1938 is not specified, its location merely noted as being in ‘Rajputana’. Following independence this conglomerate of Princely States was combined with the province of Ajmer-Merwara to form Rajasthan, the largest state in the Republic of India.

Throughout the period of British rule India remained overwhelmingly rural. In 1941, out of a population of nearly 400 million, over 80% still lived in villages (Brown, 1994, 254). Pressures on production increased owing  to overall population growth and the number of people dependent on agriculture per square mile of cultivated land grew from 432 in 1931 to 535 in 1941 (Brown, 1994, 254).

John Cell has argued that ‘In the evolution of British efforts to understand, stereotype, and therefore manipulate “India”, the concept of an ancient and ideal village community (panch) had a long run’ (Cell, 2001, 244). He notes the importance of Sir Henry Maine’s ideas in nineteenth century approaches to the sub-continent. Maine argued that in Indian villages the anthropologist could witness the precursors to capitalist society: ‘miniature republics: self-contained, self-sufficient, self-regulating’ (Cell, 2001, 244). It was at the village level that India was studied and administered. Cell argues, however, that ‘By the 1890s investigators in India had uncovered such a wide assortment of types of villages as to raise doubts about whether any such thing as a model village community had ever existed at all’ (Cell, 2001, 244). He notes that, as British officials lost faith in this idea, ‘[i]ronically’, it was Gandhi who gave it ‘a new lease of life’ (Cell, 2001, 250). Several of Gandhi’s beliefs were related to the social framework of the village community, where he argued that ‘interdependence and co-operation were the guiding principles of relationship’ (Brown, 1994, 212).



Technically, the World Window films represent a significant stride forward for documentaries shot in the sub-continent. Their use of Technicolor transforms the way in which India can be seen. Rajputana is known for the bright dyes used in its clothing, and Jack Cardiff takes full advantage of this in filming the saris of the Indian women, as well as the block-making process by which certain costumes are made. He also illuminates his scenes by shooting them from a variety of positions. A wrestling match, for example, features distance shots, close-ups, point-of-view shots and shots from reverse angles. Cardiff is adept in his use of panning and tracking shots, which are employed extensively but not intrusively. These devices do however have an effect on the structure of the film; panning and tracking shots are both used so that the camera can gradually bring more visual elements to the picture. For example, a backwards tracking motion in the opening scenes captures the opposing forwards movement of some worshippers as they arrive at the village temple.

The cumbersome Technicolor equipment, together with accepted documentary practice at the time, may have influenced the fact that several of the film’s scenes are staged. In order to have been captured effectively with tracking and dolly shots, scenes would have needed to be rehearsed and choreographed. This can sometimes jar slightly, as when Indian villagers are employed to re-enact their superstitions, scenes that are largely staged for the western audience’s amusement. Similarly, the climax of the film, in which the village is set alight to illustrate the dangers of fire, comes across as overly dramatic in this purported documentary.

There is no attempt to distinguish this Indian village from any other. Moreover, the commentary attempts to lump together all of the world’s peasants. The film begins by disclosing that ‘The world over, villagers and peasants have something in common: their skins may differ in colour; their clothes may be of a different pattern and the climates they live in may differ to extremes, but everywhere peasants are akin in their love for the soil they till and the animals they raise’. It concludes by praising ‘the gift of stubborn tenacity, peculiar to peasants’. Village life, in this film, is regarded as consisting primarily of subsistence, religion and superstition. What is more, villagers are regarded as being satisfied with their lot: ‘They are content if they can build their houses, clothe themselves and cook their food from the materials yielded by the jungle forest on the fringes of which they live’.

This line of narrative is followed by an image of a villager using a spinning wheel. Spinning homespun cloth was advocated by Gandhi as a political act; a symbolic and economic rejection of colonial power (Gandhi had felt it wrong that many Indians brought their clothes from industrial manufacturers owned by British interests).  The appearance of the spinning wheel in this village is indicative of the fact that the locals had ambitions beyond the limited horizons that have been described. Moreover, the film even admits to Gandhi’s influence, stating that ‘Since the advent of Mahatma Gandhi weaving and spinning have been re-established’. It does not, however, detail the thinking behind this act. Instead, the narrative moves directly on to British attempts to increase crop yields (once again indicating that village life is not free from outside interference). ‘Owing to the enormous importance of the working of the land’, the commentary states, ‘British administration is trying to educate villagers to a more modern manner of farming’.

Nevertheless, the film does not come across as being a propaganda exercise for the British. Instead it is an odd assemblage. It presents a universalised village in isolation. It combines factual information with staged sequences. And it is driven more by the desire to capture Technicolor images than by the need to convey a rounded portrayal of Indian village life. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as today the cinematography enables us to experience the colours that were central to village traditions. It should be noted, however, that this wasn’t necessarily how critics originally viewed this film. While the Kinematograph Weekly noted that the ‘Treatment [is] somewhat pedestrian but colour photography very good’ (KM, 5 September 1940 23), Today’s Cinema praised the ‘agreeably restrained’ commentary, noting that it is ‘unaffected yet well-informed’ (TC, 7 August 1940, 12).

Richard Osborne (October 2009)


Works Cited

‘A Village in India’, Kinematograph Weekly, 1742 (5 September 1940), 23.

‘A Village in India’, Today’s Cinema, 55/4451 (7 August 1940), 12.

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

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

‘Census of India’,

Cell, John W., ‘Colonial Rule’, 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. 232-54.

Stewart, Jez, ‘Road in India, A (1938)’,




Technical Data

Running Time:
9 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film

Production Credits

MICUCCI, Edoardo
Production Company
World Window
Western Electric Mirrophonic