The Drum


Year1938
StarringRoger Livesey
Raymond Massey



This is a very crude propaganda film about the merits of the imperial virtues of truth, justice and self-sacrifice. Modern audiences would repel at such overt imagery and propaganda. And indeed, Indian audiences did similarly. In 1939, there were serious disturbances in Madras and Bombay after the screening of this film in local cinemas there. The authorities had to hastily withdraw the film from circulation in India. Henceforth it was only shown in British and dominion cinemas.

The reason for its unpopularity with the Indians was because of the actions of the Indian hero, a young Rajah somewhere on the North West Frontier. A devious Khan foments a religious Jihad against the Raj with some help from Russia. The 'Noble' British Resident is helped by the young Rajah who warns the British of trouble by the use of the drum. The reason the young prince supports the British is because of the sheer force of character of the British imperial servants. In one scene, the resident refuses to remain within the safe confines of his fort with the argument that even if he is killed, his actions will still advance the forces of civilisation over the barbaric peoples of the interior. Such simplistic ideology may have struck a cord with the imperial classes, but hardly inspired those who were living under imperial rule.

The film itself has few artistic merits. It is thoroughly a product of its times complete with wooden performances, unconvincing sets and some pretty awful dialogue. The only reason that you would want to watch this film is to see the kind of blatant messianic messages that could be employed by the authorities at times.



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Media | Silver Screen




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