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Circa 1920, during the Indian British rule, Dr. Aziz H. Ahmed was born and brought up in India. He is proficient in English, and wears Western style clothing. He meets an old lady, Mrs. Moore, at a mosque, who asks him to accompany her and her companion, Adela Quested, for sight-seeing around some caves. Thereafter the organized life of Aziz is turned upside down when Adela accuses him of molesting her in a cave. Aziz is arrested and brought before the courts, where he learns that the entire British administration is against him, and would like to see him found guilty and punished severely, to teach all native Indians what it means to molest a British citizen. Aziz is all set to witness the "fairness" of the British system, whose unofficial motto is "guilty until proved innocent." Written by
Culture and race and one thing you might not notice.
Sometimes, what you don't see can be of equal importance to what you do see in a film. David Lean's film is no exception ... but more on that later.
A film of epic quality, it follows two travelers on their journey from England to India during the Raj colonial period of the 1920s. For Adela Quested, it's her first time out of England to anywhere. For Mrs. Moore, it's a chance to visit her son, Ronny, who is expected to marry Adela during the visit. But, their visit is not without incident.
What both Adela and Mrs. Moore discover is an India ruled by British bureaucrats (Ronny being one of them, a city magistrate) who exude personal and cultural superiority over Indians. This was a shock to them since they both expected to find Indians and Britons meeting socially and on friendly terms. The only exception to that rule appears to be Fielding, principal of a college.
Through Fielding, Adela is introduced socially to Professor Godbole (a Hindu holy man) and Dr. Aziz (a Muslim physician). Mrs. Moore met Aziz in a previous scene but had not yet met Godbole until that moment. One note on that (a film flaw). During the mosque scene where Mrs. Moore meets Dr. Aziz, Aziz never once mentions his name to her ... yet later, Adela knows his name as mentioned to her by Mrs. Moore. Perhaps his name was mentioned in a brief scene that ended up on the cutting-room floor. But, that omission is trivial and in no way detracts from the enjoyment of the film.
During this social introduction, Aziz invites Mrs. Moore and Adela on a journey to the Marabar caves, a tourist destination. On the trip, and tired from all the activity, Mrs. Moore stays at the encampment near the lower caves and encourages Aziz and Adela to explore the higher caves alone.
Then, something happened ... and I won't tell you what (grin). Suffice it to say that Aziz finds himself in police custody. A court trial ensues that pits culture against culture, race against race, and clearly demonstrates the differences in attitudes between resident British citizens and Indians. But the trial's climax isn't the most moving part of the film. Lean has risen the film's denouement to a higher level ... one that leaves you smiling and crying at the same time. But what Lean does NOT mention in the film is equally interesting.
In today's world, India is beset by inter-sect angst between Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and persons of other faiths. In theory, this inter-sect rivalry has been around since before India became a British colony. But, this rivalry was not mentioned once in the film. It is perhaps a testament to the novelist (E.M. Forster) and Lean to realize a potent underlying force in the story ... that British colonial rule held these rivalries in abeyance ... uniting Indians of all faiths into a common bond that eventually forced colonialism to end in India.
The film is a masterpiece on every level and remains one of my favorites of all time.
P.S. Closing comment to those (like me) who own region-free DVD players that render both PAL and NTSC DVDs. For some reason unknown to me, it's over $10 cheaper to buy the DVD from Amazon.co.uk than it is from Amazon.com ... even after overseas shipping is added in. That's where I ordered mine (from the UK).
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