Video : Planes of Hindustan, IAF in 1940.
- Category: The Royal Indian Air Force in the Second World War
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I have been tracking the existance of a film titled "Planes of Hindustan" for many years. After hearing many stories about the footage present in the film, I finally had an opportunity to view it when the Imperial War Museum Collection Website hosted it in 2011.
The film has rare footage of No.1 Squadron from early 1940, However further information is missing on details available in the film.
The following personalities appear in this film :
- Sqn Ldr Subroto Mukerjee , CO, 1 Sqn
- Fg Offr Henry Runganadhan
- Fg Offr Habib Ullah Khan
- Fg Offr Ravindra Hari Darshan Singh
- Fg Offr Diwan Atma Ram Nanda
- Plt Offr Arjan Singh
- Plt Offr Surjit Singh Majithia
The following aircraft appear in the film as well
----------Hawker Hart K2084 - NB-C later with 1 SFTS , 1 AGS
----------Hawker Audax K4851 - NB-D later with 1 SFTS in July 1941 , destroyed in a gale at Bairagarh on 21.4.1943
----------Hawker Hart K2130 - NB-E - to 1 SFTS in Ambala. Destroyed in an accident in July 1942
----------Hawker Hart K2129 - NB-P - No service recorded in UK archives beyond 1939
----------Vickers Valentia JR8063 - ZA-Q with 31 Sqn.
Going by the location and the presence of these officers and aircraft, it is believed that the film was shot at Ambala Airfield, and sometime between Feb 1940 and June 1940. At that time, the Squadron had dispatched one flight to Karachi to act as a Coastal Defence Flight. There may have been two Flights at Ambala, with one flight of aircraft seen in the air at all times in this film. Subsequent time may have elapsed and the introduction of stock Battle of Britain footage indicates that the film was released only in late 1940 . The Illustrated Weekly of India published a short report and a photo spread in its 6th October 1940 issue announcing the completion of the film.
0:51 CO of No.1 Squadron, Subroto Mukerjee (IND/1551) at the table.
0:52 Fg Offr Habib Ullah "Bul Bul" Khan (IND/1557) at his desk.
1:01 Hawker Harts and a Wapiti in the background. Harts can be distinguished from the Audax from the open exposed engine ports.
1:04 Mukerjee in white flying suit. Aircraft in background is Kxx29
1:07 This aircraft is an Hawker Audax (long exhaust pipe). In the background "287" refers to another Audax K4287
1:11 to 1:17 Mukerjee with Henry Runganadhan and Bul Bul Khan. Note the Checkerboard 'Patch worn by Bul Bul .. it is dark blue and light blue and was No.1 Squadron's Colours painted on the aircraft in the 30s
1:20 The pilot on the left is unidentified. HU Khan, Mukerjee and Runganadhan as previously noted.
1:25 Hawker Hart K2130
1:32 Hawker Audax K4851
1:37 Hawker Hart
1:56 Mukerjee is assisted by an unidentified Air Gunner/Airman
2:08 Aircraft reveals itself to be Hawker Hart K2084
2:12 shot of three aircraft. K2084 and K2129 are Harts. Note the letters on the fuselage NB-P. NB was the Squadron Code of No.1 Squadron. K2129 - NB-P is seen for the last time here - this was possibly the Camera Ship.
2:13 - 2:45 Various flying shots. All aircraft seen in these shots are ----------Hawker Hart K2084 - NB-C ----------Hawker Audax K4851 - NB-D ----------Hawker Hart K2130 - NB-E
2:50 Airmen and Health facilities
3:57 Parachute Packing
4:30 Supplies drop by Parachute
4:50 Hart NB-E K2130 dropping bomb
5:09 Audax K4851 NB-D coming in for Message Pick up
5:30 Photo Section.
5:58 Maintenance on Audax Aircraft. Airman Unidentified.
6:20 Gym and Sports 6:27 Hockey Game
6:40 Swimming Pool. Henry Runganadhan at 6:44, S Mukerjee at 6:46 . R H D Singh (IND/1558) behind Mukerjee at this point.
6:49 and 6:56 Henry Runganadhan at Officers Mess.
7:09 Vickers Valentia Transport Aircraft arrives. Possibly operated by 31 Squadron
7:39 Aircraft identified as JR8063 - ZA-Q
7:45 Sikh Officer on left is Surjit Singh Majithia (IND/1563)
7:55 Valentia JR8063 departs
7:58 Subroto Mukerjee goes up in a Bristol Blenheim Mk 1. The only aircraft considered 'modern' enough at this time of the year in the continent. Mukerjee along with other senior officers like Mehar Singh etc had done his conversion on the type in late 1939.
8:57 Switches to stock RAF Battle of Britain Footage.
10:05 Cut to No.1 Squadron again - Pilots meeting with the AILO.
10:10 The two pilots who walk i are Arjan Singh (IND/1577) and D A R Nanda (IND/1562) . The third pilot reveals himself to be Runganadhan.
10:14 to 10:32 Nanda, Runganadhan and Arjan Singh
10:33 Flying shots again. ----------Hawker Hart K2084 - NB-C ----------Hawker Audax K4851 - NB-D ----------Hawker Hart K2130 - NB-E
10:47 Clear shot of NB-E K2130
10:51 Audax NB-D K4851
11:38 Audax being wheeled back into Hangar.
Assistant Editor Hardy, Marcella
Documentary on life in the Indian Air Force (IAF) culminates with a plea to Indian audience for more and better planes for the IAF.
At the headquarters of the Indian Air Force in the Punjab, Hawker Harts of 1 Squadron stand on the airfield representing the only armed unit of the Crown entirely officered by Indians. Squadron-Leader Mukerjee and his pilots, all Cranwell-trained, climb into their Harts and fly in formation. Over views of the quarters, bar and canteen similar to RAF barracks, commentary describes excellent facilities enjoyed by men and also their families. Meals are served on Royal cypher crockery in the airmen's mess, officers have their own room and a baby is weighed at the Child Welfare Centre. Parachutes are packed prior to supply canisters being dropped: a Hart drops a bomb with perfect accuracy, over remark that "the British Empire has already shown it knows a thing or two about accurate bombing". Another Hart swoops low to pick up a message from the ground and reconnaissance photos are taken. Back on the ground the planes are serviced and men relax off-duty in the gymnasium, playing hockey and swimming. "Famous" Vickers Valentia transport bomber is used for travels to and fro; Squadron-Leader takes off in Blenheim. Film from Universal and British Movietone News of a Battle of Britain dogfight is used to stress need for more planes and more men in addition to the 10,000 who have already volunteered in order to defend India from attack, suggested by final sequence of army air cooperation against unspecified enemy beyond hills.
Production: Bombay Board of Film Censors certificate dated 24 September 1940 precedes film and indicates length as 1110 ft.
The History behind the Film
Planes of Hindustan was one of the earliest World War II documentaries to be made in India and it was the second to be produced by the company Wadia Movietone, following their earlier He's in the Navy (1940). For both films the same core crew of director, editor and sound recordist were employed.
These projects were initiated by Desmond Young, who worked as chief press officer and as a member of the war propaganda team in the Government of India (Garga, 2007, 60). Young was operating in response to a Ministry of Information request to produce war propaganda for distribution within India. In his autobiography he claimed that, before the War, documentary films 'had never been seen in India, let alone be [sic] made' (quoted in Garga, 2007, 63). To fill this void Young initially turned to British advertising agencies operating in India believing that 'it was their business to know about selling through pictures' (quoted in Garga, 2007, 63). However, the ad agencies knew little about making films and therefore enlisted the help of Indian film studios.
Wadia Movietone was owned and run by J.B.H. Wadia, one of the senior figures in Indian filmmaking. Wadia, a nationalist and a founder member of the Radical Democratic Party, justified his production of films that furthered Britain's war aims by arguing that supporting democracy in the face of Nazi aggression 'would definitely lead to independence for India too' (Mulugundam, 2002, 70).
On Young's instructions the early propaganda films were dubbed into various Indian languages, but he found that distribution within the sub-continent remained a problem (Young, 29 October 1940, 1). To that end in July 1940 India's first official film body, the Film Advisory Board (FAB), was constituted. Its first chairman was J. B. H. Wadia and Planes of Hindustan formed part of the first catalogue of films. The aim of the FAB was to give the Indian public 'films of interesting war subjects' and others of 'informatory value'. It resolved 'to make every effort to see that all cinemas exhibit these films' (Garga, 2007, 65). In order to help this drive the majority of the films were distributed free of charge. (Young, 29 October 1940, 2).
Because their films were aimed at a largely illiterate audience Wadia and Young were of the opinion that they should be easy to understand. Wadia argued that the films should be told in a 'straight-from-the-shoulder manner', adding that 'If a democratic form of government, despite its imperfections, is more desirable than a totalitarian one, they [the Indian audience] must be reminded of this all-important fact over and over again' (Garga, 2007, 72). In his autobiography Young stated that 'if recruiting were to be extended beyond the so-called "martial classes"' life in the services would need to be portrayed in the most simple terms (Garga, 2007, 63).
Within the Indian military establishment the air force was unique. As the film states, it was the 'only armed unit of the Crown entirely officered by Indians'. The Indian Air Force (IAF) was established in 1933 and this film features one of its first five pilots, Subroto Mukerjee. By the time this film was made he was squadron leader and he would later become the first Indian Chief of the Air Staff. The IAF grew rapidly during the war, rising in numbers from 1,600 to 28,500 men (Jackson, 2006, 367).
Even allowing for the working methods outlined by Young and Wadia,Planes of Hindustan is a crude documentary. The camerawork is often uncertain and there are some poor tracking shots. The film begins with an unsteady shot as the cameraman hurriedly attempts to follow the movement of a car towards a hangar. Later there is a scene that is supposed to depict the ‘accurate bombing’ of the IAF; here it is the cameraman who misses his target. The film is also hampered by the speed with which it was made. Young only gave his producers six weeks in which to deliver their films. He later admitted that ‘It was a measure of my ignorance that I thought [this] should be ample time to make a ten-minute short . . . soundtrack and all’ (Garga, 2007, 64). A further drawback for this film was the material that was to hand. J.B.H. Wadia recalled the shock of the editor and cameraman of Planes of Hindustan in finding that ‘the total strength of the Royal Air Force Centre was four fighter planes, one of which he had to film from’. He adds that ‘to give the impression of a formidable force ready to meet the enemy’s challenge was impossible’ (Garga, 2007, 64). Instead the film relies on footage of Battle of Britain dogfights, which the commentary admits is taken from Universal and British Movietone newsreels. This footage strikes a discordant note in a documentary that is supposed to be about the IAF.
That said, the airborne sequences featuring the IAF pilots are among the more successful in the film. The cameraman seems to be more at home in the air than he is on land, and he captures some of the skilled manoeuvres of the IAF squadron. He also shows how dashing and self-assured these fighter pilots are. The four pilots have the nonchalance and something of the fashion sense of the British flying ace about them: one of them has a small moustache and slicked-back hair. They are also shown as being equals with the British military. In a scene in which they visit a British army officer there is no sense of them deferring to him.
It is this factor that marks the clearest difference between this film and He’s in the Navy. The earlier film is condescending in its treatment of young naval recruits; they are witnessed as being at the bottom of the military chain of command and their training is played for laughs.Planes of Hindustan, on the other hand, is proud of the fact that the IAF is officered by Indians and it depicts Indian personnel as being capable and mature; in place of the pratfalls of the earlier film we witness a ‘studious’ Indian officer in his book-filled dormitory. The senior Indian officers are shown sharing the same privileged life as their British equivalents. We witness them relaxing together in the officers’ mess and ‘rival[ing] each other as splash makers’ in a swimming pool. This is not to say that colonial power is entirely absent from the film. One scene depicts an elaborately dressed Indian servant working in the officers’ mess. His work is overseen by a white officer. It also emphasised that the crockery that the Indian officers eat and drink from bears the Royal cypher.
In certain respects the propaganda purposes of He’s in the Navy andPlanes of Hindustan are similar. Both films are keen to depict the up-to-date methods and well-appointed compounds of the military in India.Planes of Hindustan comes unstuck in this respect: the dated biplanes of the IAF can be contrasted with the superior British and German aircraft visible in the borrowed footage. This, in fact, is where the propaganda purposes of the two films diverge. He’s in the Navy’s aim is to encourage more naval recruits; Planes of Hindustan, meanwhile, is concerned with gaining more planes for the Indian Air Force. In this respect the film is quite blatant. It directly addresses the Indian audience, saying ‘more planes, and yet more planes are needed. That is up to you, men and women of India’. The audience is warned that this increase is required for the defence of the homeland. The film concludes melodramatically, its commentary wishing that ‘the planes of Hindustan will so grow in numbers as to cast a protective shadow over the whole of this vast land’. However, it was events outside this film that occasioned the growth of the IAF.. In late 1941 Japan entered the war and the air defence of South-East Asia subsequently formed a vital part of the Allied campaign.
© Richard Osborne (September 2009)