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During principal photography a large fire broke out on set which blew out from just a small fire being required for a scene. Producer Ismail Merchant has said of the fire in his memoirs 'My Passage from India' (2002): "Bapji [aka Gaj Singh II, the then current Maharaja of Jodhpur] was enormously hospitable and helpful to us and behaved with the utmost courtesy when we almost burned his palace down during filming. We prepared bundles of rags soaked in kerosene, enough bundles for several takes if necessary. This was an interior scene, so we took the precaution of having a few fire extinguishers at hand, not so much because we expected to set the palace alight, but because we needed to put out the fire after shooting the scene. Unfortunately, on the first take the flames spread from one kerosene-soaked bundle to the next, and before we even had a chance to react, the fire took hold. The flames leaped out of the window, and the exterior shot looks as though the whole palace was on fire. Everyone in the unit was shocked. We had come to shoot a film at this historic site and were about to leave it a pile of ashes. Some fast-thinking assistants on the crew grabbed the extinguishers and eventually managed to put the fire out, but not before the room suffered quite a lot of damage. [Director James Ivory] felt we had behaved badly, and he saw no difference between us and the characters in the film who were intent on raiding the palace of its treasures no matter what the cost. Bapji, on the other hand, regarded this as nothing more than an unfortunate accident and, generously, dismissed the incident". See more »
I really enjoyed this movie. Two disparate people - one, an American art collector (Larry Pine), the other, an elderly but spry British woman (Peggy Ashcroft) who represents a British museum - arrive at a Maharaja's palace in Jodhpur, India and commence a sort of cat-and-mouse competition for the privilege to purchase a large, and apparently quite valuable, collection of old paintings which are in the Maharaja's possession -- a collection which, it seems, the Maharaja may not even be interested in selling.
Apparently it was made for TV, so it wasn't exactly what you would call "big budget," and yet I found it to be a rich feast of images of at least one part of India, both past and present. The scenery in and around the Maharaja's palace (filmed on location at Umaid Bhavan Palace in Jodhpur, India) was quite fascinating. In addition to authentic sets and scenery, there was lots of interesting Indian music, playing not only in the background but also in the "foreground," in the form of a few colorful dance sequences.
For a movie that's scarcely a little more than eighty minutes in length, I thought it held riches galore. The aforementioned scenery and music are only part of the rich tapestry found herein. The plot becomes a bit complex, but in a playful and gently comic manner, so you start to feel good as the story rolls along. The ending has a nice resolution to everything, and leaves you feeling good inside.
The actual paintings, what little we see of them, are quite wondrous, and are probably worth the proverbial price of admission.
Good performances all around, with a very literate script penned by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Of note is the teaming of Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft, and Saeed Jaffrey, all of whom would later appear together in 1984's "A Passage to India." Also look for a very compelling performance by Aparna Sen, who plays the Maharaja's intelligent, beautiful - and frustrated - sister, Bonnie.
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