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A Passage to India is a 1984 British/American drama film written and directed by David Lean. The screenplay is based on the 1924 novel of the same title by E.M. Forster and the 1960 play by Santha Rama Rau that was inspired by the novel.

Plot

The film is set in the 1920s during the period of growing influence of the Indian independence movement in the British Raj. Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft) and Adela Quested (Judy Davis) sail from England to India, where Ronny Heaslop (Nigel Havers), the older woman's son and younger woman's fiancé, is the local magistrate in the provincial town of Chandrapore. Through school superintendent Richard Fielding (James Fox), the two visitors meet eccentric elderly Brahmin scholar Professor Godbole (Alec Guinness), and they befriend Dr. Aziz Ahmed (Victor Banerjee), an impoverished widower who initially meets Mrs. Moore in a moonlit mosque overlooking the Ganges Rivermarker. Their sensitivity and unprejudiced attitude toward native Indians endears them to him. When Mrs. Moore and Adela express an interest in seeing the "real" India, as opposed to the Anglicised environment of cricket, polo, and afternoon tea the British expatriates have created for themselves, Aziz offers to host an excursion to the remote Marabar Caves.

The outing goes reasonably well until the two women begin exploring the caves with Aziz and his sizable entourage. Mrs. Moore experiences an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia that forces her to return to the open air. She encourages Adela and Aziz to continue their exploration but suggests they bring only one guide. The three set off for a series of caves far removed from the rest of the group, and before entering Aziz steps aside to smoke a cigarette. He returns to find Adela has disappeared; shortly after he sees her running headlong down the hill, bloody and dishevelled. Upon their return to town, Aziz is jailed to await trial for attempted rape, and an uproar ensues between the Indians and the Colonials.

The case becomes a cause celebre among the British. When Mrs. Moore makes it clear she firmly believes in Aziz's innocence and will not testify against him, it is decided she should return to England. She subsequently suffers a fatal heart attack during the voyage and is buried at sea.

To the consternation of her fiancé and friends, Adela has a change of heart and clears Aziz in open court. The Colonials are forced to make an ignominious retreat while the Indians carry the exonerated man out of the courtroom on their shoulders, cheering wildly. In the aftermath, Miss Quested breaks off her engagement and leaves India, while Dr. Aziz abandons his Western attire, dons traditional dress, and withdraws completely from Anglo-Indian society, opening a clinic in Northern India near the Himalayasmarker. Although he remains angry and bitter for years, he eventually writes to Adela to convey his thanks and forgiveness.

Production

The film ended David Lean's 14-year-long hiatus from filmmaking following the mostly negative reviews he received for Ryan's Daughter in 1970. He had attempted to secure the film rights to E.M. Forster's novel from the author himself as early as 1960, after seeing Santha Rama Rau's stage adaptation at the Comedy Theatremarker in Londonmarker, but Forster did not consider motion pictures a serious art form and refused to sell them. Producer John Brabourne eventually acquired them from Bernard Williams, the master of King's College, Cambridgemarker, which was the literary executor of the late writer's estate.

Despite having quarrelled with Lean in the early 1960s about a proposed film about Gandhi that ultimately was scrapped, Alec Guinness agreed to portray Professor Godbole. The relationship between the two men deteriorated during filming, and when Guinness discovered much of his performance was left on the cutting room floor due to time constraints, he took it as a personal affront and never spoke to Lean again.

The Marabar Caves are based on the Barabar Cavesmarker, some 35 km north of Gayamarker. Lean visited the caves during pre-production but found them unphotogenic; concerns about bandits were also prevalent. Instead he used two separate hills a few miles from Bangaloremarker, where much of the principal filming occurred, and the caves themselves were created by the production company. Other scenes were filmed in Ramanagarammarker, and some interiors were shot at the Shepperton Studiosmarker in Surreymarker.

Cast



Critical reception

Vincent Canby of the New York Times called Lean's film "his best work since The Bridge on the River Kwaimarker and Lawrence of Arabia and perhaps his most humane and moving film since Brief Encounter. Though vast in physical scale and set against a tumultuous Indian background, it is also intimate, funny and moving in the manner of a film maker completely in control of his material . . . Though [Lean] has made A Passage to India both less mysterious and more cryptic than the book, the film remains a wonderfully provocative tale, full of vivid characters, all played to near perfection . . . The film contains a rather major flaw, one that keeps a very good film from being great. Though A Passage to India . . . is essentially a dark comedy of manners, Mr. Lean sometimes appears to think of it as a romance . . . This is the only explanation for the terrible Maurice Jarre score, which contradicts the images and sounds like a reworking of the music he wrote for Mr. Lean's unsuccessful Ryan's Daughter. This score has nothing to do with Forster, India, the time or the story, but it has everything to do with movie-making in the 1960s, when soundtrack music first became a major element in the merchandising of movies, including Mr. Lean's Dr. Zhivago."

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times observed, "Forster's novel is one of the literary landmarks of this century, and now David Lean has made it into one of the greatest screen adaptations I have ever seen . . . [He] is a meticulous craftsman, famous for going to any lengths to make every shot look just the way he thinks it should. His actors here are encouraged to give sound, thoughtful, unflashy performances . . . and his screenplay is a model of clarity."

Variety called the film "impeccably faithful, beautifully played and occasionally languorous" and added, "Lean has succeeded to a great degree in the tricky task of capturing Forster's finely edged tone of rational bemusement and irony."

Time Out London thought the film was "a curiously modest affair, abandoning the tub-thumping epic style of Lean's late years. While adhering to perhaps 80 per cent of the book's incident, Lean veers very wide of the mark over E.M. Forster's hatred of the British presence in India, and comes down much more heavily on the side of the British. But he has assembled his strongest cast in years . . . And once again Lean indulges his taste for scenery, demonstrating an ability with sheer scale which has virtually eluded British cinema throughout its history. Not for literary purists, but if you like your entertainment well tailored, then feel the quality and the width."

Channel 4 said, "Lean was always preoccupied with landscapes and obsessed with the perfect shot - but here his canvas is way smaller than in Lawrence of Arabia, for instance . . . Still, while the storytelling is rather toothless, A Passage to India is certainly well worth watching for fans of the director's epic style."

Awards and nominations



DVD releases

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the first DVD on 20 March 2001. It was in anamorphic widescreen format with audio tracks and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. Bonus features included Reflections of David Lean, an interview with the screenwriter/director, cast biographies, and production notes.

On 9 September 2003, Columbia Pictures released the box set The David Lean Collection, which included Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and A Passage to India.

On 15 April 2008, Sony released A Passage To India (2-Disc Collector's Edition). In addition to Reflections of David Lean from the 2001 release, bonus features included commentary with producer Richard B. Goodwin; E.M. Forster: A Profile of an Author, covering some of the main themes of the original book; An Epic Takes Shape, in which cast and crew members discuss the evolution of the film; An Indian Affair, detailing the primary production period; Only Connect: A Vision of India, detailing the final days of shooting at Shepperton Studios and the post-production period; Casting a Classic, in which casting director Priscilla John discusses the challenges of bringing characters from the book to life; and David Lean: Shooting with the Master, a profile of the director.

References

  1. Phillips, Gene D., Beyond the Epic: The Life & Films of David Lean. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky 2006. ISBN 0-813-12415-8
  2. Read, Piers Paul, Alec Guinness: The Authorized Biography. New York: Simon and Schuster 2005. ISBN 0-743-24498-2
  3. Mapability.com
  4. New York Times review
  5. Chicago Sun-Times review
  6. Variety review
  7. Time Out London review
  8. Channel 4 review


External links




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