Made for British television by the correctly esteemed Merchant/Ivory partnership, with an expected well-wrought screenplay from Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, this short (one hour) film is essentially a chamber piece for two characters, shot primarily within a single room of a London town house, but the subject is an India that is no more, yet still appears to be real to a viewer of this carefully organized and well detailed production. Madhur Jaffrey plays as an Indian Princess who arranges for Cyril Sahib (James Mason), tutor of her late father, to meet with her in her English home to commemorate the anniversary of her father's death, and to reminisce at tea that which her selective memory considers as a golden Colonial past. They accomplish this through 16mm. films that she possesses (featuring actual footage of the erstwhile Princely States of Jodhpur, Jaipur, and Bikaner) and, when not viewing, they discuss their shared memories, although it soon becomes apparent that Cyril is not utilizing the same rose-tinted lenses as is his hostess, and has not remotely her tolerance of pig sticking, big game hunting and other leisure sports enjoyed at her father's court. For it appears that, in Cyril's version of their historical discussion of her father, that the Maharajah had in fact a demoralizing influence upon the Englishman due to an aimless and sybaritic lifestyle provided by the Crown to Colonial Royalty and its minions, so that despite, and because of, his acceptance of a high level of personal comfort, Cyril's ambition to become an author had faded entirely. In spite of these clear differences of opinion concerning merits of Royal privilege, the Princess presses Cyril to halt his current writing project to take on the task of being biographer to her late father, she believing that the potentate's former influence over him will supersede Cyril's current authorial aims. The film's concept was created following a journey to India by producer Ismail Merchant, who had travelled to his native land as means of developing a documentary project focusing upon descendants of Maharajahs, to include extensive interviews with these latter that, although rather undramatic in themselves, comprise a crucial segment of an attempt by the Princess at establishing a historical reconstruction of her father's life, to be garnished with her own romantic standards. Both Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud were considered for the role of Cyril Sahib, but were found to be unsuitable, whereas Mason, Merchant's choice, desired the part, and is well cast for this somewhat lesser known entry by the Merchant/Ivory tandem. Although Mason has top billing, the film is dominated by Jaffrey's playing, her character strongly written with no obvious artifice in her depiction of a woman desperately wanting to record a past that is patently open to interpretation by others. Jaffrey's adjustments to her saree during the opening scene are fascinating and her timing is perfect throughout, under the strong direction of Ivory, in a minimalist setting. A wrong note is struck with a poorly done dramatised sequence relating of a sex scandal involving the Maharajah and blackmailers, but the work eventually recovers.
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