By the livin' Gawd that made you,
You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!
Gunga Din takes place in 1880's colonial India, and follows the misadventures of three British soldiers- Sergeants Ballantine (Fairbanks), Cutter (Grant), and MacChesney (McLaglan). After communication is lost with the British outpost at Tantrapur, a squad of Indian soldiers commanded by the three sergeants is sent to investigate. At this point we meet the character Gunga Din. A lowly water-bearer for the British army, he longs to become a real soldier. When the troop arrives at the outpost, they find that it has been attacked and overrun. They are forced to fight their way out and retreat to headquarters, where their attackers are identified as the Thuggee, an Indian cult which practices ritual murder by strangulation. Upon their return, Ballantine springs the news on his friends that he's getting married and leaving the army. Cutter and MacChesney are horrified by this, and immediately begin hatching plots to prevent it from happening.
Gunga Din makes it back to Tantrapur and sounds the alarm.MacChesney prepares to ride to Cutter's rescue and Ballantine insists on going with him. MacChesney refuses to allow this, though, as his military commission has now expired. The only way Ballantine can come, he says, is if he re-enlists... MacChesney just happens to have enlistment papers with him. Ballantine signs them on the understanding that the papers will be ripped up after they rescue Cutter. Ballantine's fiancee, who has arrived to accompany him back home, pitches a fit when she finds out what he's done. She generally makes a nuisance of herself until Ballantine gets sick of it and tells her he's a man and a soldier, and that he's going. He then kisses her masterfully and hastily leaves with MacChesney, no doubt hoping to put some distance between them before she recovers from her shock and starts carrying on again.