The introduction outlines the key arguments of the book and indicates how the book synthesizes the two arguments. It also outlines the existing literature on development during the Nehruvian era and its colonial origins, discusses the contribution of this book to understanding the limitations of the project of development undertaken by the Indian state during this period and sets out the novel methodology (analysis of government-sponsored film) that illuminates the ideological underpinnings of these limitations. The introduction argues that due to its very nature as a collaborative medium that brings multiple parties together in the process of production, documentary film provides unique insights into issues surrounding development that cannot be derived from other kinds of source material.
Chapter 2 | Tracing Colonial Documentary, 1926-1946
The opening chapter traces the colonial origins of FD documentaries by outlining the British colonial film tradition from the 1920s to the 1940s and by pointing out the similarities between this tradition and the films made in India by the colonial government during World War II. The chapter particularly examines the films made in India during and after the war that focus on the idea of progress/development and contain both elements of the colonialist discourse on development and cinematic devices associated with colonial filmmaking. A discussion of the disparate interests of various parties involved in government-sponsored documentary production during this period (the British Government, the Indian Colonial Government, Indian nationalists) is included, pointing to a multiplicity of agencies involved in documentary filmmaking in India from the onset of documentary production in the subcontinent—a theme that re-appears multiple times throughout the book.
Chapter 3 | The Emergence of the Films Division: Institutional Roots and Tensions
The third chapter begins with the discussion of the birth of the Films Division as Nehru’s brainchild and the hope Indian filmmakers placed in the power of the documentary medium to contribute to the project of development on the brink of Independence. It shows that in spite of what appeared to be a denunciation of colonial filmmaking by leaders of post-Independence India, the Films Division adopted production and distribution policies similar to those introduced by the British, including a compulsory exhibition scheme and an assembly-like production pipeline that suppressed the creative input of individual artists. A section on internal tensions brings out evidence from diaries, personal collections and FD record rooms proving that despite these strong continuities, FD was a “melting pot” of ideas about filmmaking and development as early as 1950s. A separate discussion of FD’s Cartoon Film Unit is included, analysing the role of animation in government film. The chapter concludes with an extensively researched compilation of views on FD expressed by Indian film critics and political commentators from the late 1940s up until the Emergency. These voices echo my argument about colonial-postcolonial continuity while also hinting at the heterogeneity of voices within FD.
Chapter 4 | Cinematic Imagining of the New Indian Citizen
This chapter contains an analysis of a sample of Films Division documentaries that instruct the viewers to adopt a lifestyle perceived by government leaders as one conducive to development. Through the scrutiny of films on family planning, on the ‘uplift’ of Adivasis and on civic education, the chapter shows that the Films Division advocated a ‘modern’ lifestyle that impinged on the civil liberties of the citizens and discouraged popular debate on the form of development to be adopted, thus seeking to polarize Indian society between ‘experts’ and ‘laymen.’ The chapter also contains a discussion of the use of animation in service of government film as a tool designed to perfect the visualization of development and future progress, as well as a discussion of the portrayal of gender in FD films.
Chapter 5 | ‘Our Industrial Age:’ Planning, Industrialization, and Large Dams
This chapter analyses a sample of Films Division documentaries that deal with economic development and material progress. It shows that films on India’s five-year plans, industrialization and large dams were designed to glorify Western-style industrial modernity as the singular path to progress, thus perpetuating ideas about development introduced by the British and adopted by Indian nationalists. It also demonstrates that by the mid-1950s, formal experimentation and limited departures from cinematic blueprints steeped in colonial ideologies emerged within FD. The chapter argues that these departures are a manifestation of the internal dialogues and tensions described in Chapter 3, hinting at undercurrents of dissent within the state “development regime.”
Chapter 6 | Films Division’s Transient Outliers, 1965 - c.1973
The final chapter focuses on the “outliers” among FD filmmakers and the tenure of Jehangir Bhownagary, who attempted to reform the institution during Indira Gandhi’s first term as prime minister. Through the analysis of films of S. Sukhdev, S.N.S. Sastry, Pramod Pati and others active during this era, the chapter traces the dissent among Indian documentary filmmakers both in content and form of their films. I also demonstrate the diversity of approaches and lack of unity among these artists that precluded the emergence of a coherent alternative to the FD model steeped in colonial filmmaking. The chapter engages in further discussion of films on gender, arguing that despite the ultimate failure of the “outliers” to achieve lasting reform within FD, feminist concerns entered FD’s portfolio and remained in the organization’s production program even after Bhownagary’s departure. In the final section, I argue that the work of S.N.S. Sastry went beyond the philosophical boundaries of Nehruvian developmentalism rather than merely critiquing the implementation of state policies within this political framework. Sastry’s films are proof that the undercurrent of forces working against ideologies steeped in colonialism could reach a full articulation even as oppressive state policies regulating film production and distribution outlived the period of the “outliers.”
Chapter 7 | Concluding Reflections: Visions of Development
The conclusion contextualizes the arguments explored in the book by discussing the extent to which the films reflect the politics of the era. On the one hand, it discusses the implications of the film analysis in the preceding chapters to the understanding of authoritarian traits of the Nehrzvian development regime. At the same time, it shows that discrepancies exist between the films and other sources from the period (such as some of Nehru’s speeches and private writing). This divergence suggests that Indian politics and documentary production did not always move in the same direction, and that by the late 1960s, FD had a life of its own, as evidenced by the work of Sastry and others. The conclusion also suggests topics for future research (which could include separate book-length studies of some of the key “outliers,” a detailed study on FD films on the green revolution, and a more nuanced study of gender in FD films) and discusses the legacy of FD and its impact on the work of Indian documentary filmmakers active after 1975, as well as the book’s implications for development theory.
Appendix | Guide To The Study of Films Division
The Appendix contains a list of all the archival collections (official archives, private collections and online depositories) that I consulted during the course of my research. It identifies relevant documents (for example, it walks the reader through the procedures that were used by FD’s Production Department when compiling a production file for a film, and the specific documents and reports typically archived for each film).