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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
David Lean wanted Peter O'Toole for the role of Fielding. See more »
At the end of the film, as Dr. Aziz writes a letter, a festival with fireworks is going on outside his window. The colors red, green, and purple all appear simultaneously at two separate intervals, indicating studio lights instead of fireworks. See more »
[at the trial]
Before we begin, I'd like to state what I believe to be a universal truth: the darker races are attracted to the fairer, but not vice-versa.
Advocate Amrit Rao:
Even when the lady is LESS attractive than the gentleman?
[court breaks out in laughter]
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David Lean was unquestionably a great director, and 'A Passage to India' is one of his more entertaining productions, albeit homogenized and clichéd.
No complaints about the cinematography in 'A Passage to India', it's beautiful, almost too beautiful. You can't smell the place or feel the heat. For a fully rounded sensual portrayal of India watch Christopher Morahan's great television series 'The Jewel in the Crown' made about the same time as this film, and also starring Peggy Ashcroft and others in Lean's film. Having recently viewed that classic mini-series, Lean's Technicolor excess is diminished by comparison.
The casting of Lean's film is clever but doesn't always work. Alec Guinness does one of his "look what I can do" turns, and he does it very well. His Professor Godbolly is amusing and he performs all the trade motions of an ersatz guru with dead-pan aplomb, but he's not real at all. I kept thinking of Peter Sellars singing "Boom Titty Boom Titty Boom..." from an old joke record my parents had in the 60s.
Most of the cast is Masterpiece Theater calibre, that is, excellent, but predictable.
Judi Davis is by far the most effective performer. She fully captures the spirit of an Edwardian girl just venturing out into the world from her room of books back home. She's curious, has a mystical bent and is suffering under the burden of awakening sexual desires, and India sets her spirit on fire, to dire results.
Dame Peggy Ashcroft's character is as clichéd as the other Mem-sahibs only Mrs Moore (Ashcroft) is a liberal spirit vexed by the rigid hypocrisy of her own generation. She delivers one of the best lines in this film to chilling effect... (something like...) "I am old, and like old people I wonder if we aren't just random creatures in a Godless universe."
This is the kernel of the story, the difference between East and West is not one of race but of something greater than humanity, something the East perhaps appreciates more than we do in the West, where commercialism captures every new religious fad with a zeal.. note the "new age" movement and how lucrative it was for so many, something that would be incomprehensible to the Eastern mind, though they appear to be learning.
This film moves along at a placid pace, not boring, exactly, but somnolent. None of the characters, beyond Ms Quested (Davis) and, to a lesser degree, Mrs Moore, are developed very much beyond the "what you see is what you get" approach. Dr Aziz, well-played by Victor Banerjee, is presented as a sort of clown. Childish, adolescently over-sexed and immature in his emotional responses. It's a charming portrayal but not very believable. James Fox is the stiff-upper lipped liberal college professor who also abhors the Pukka Raj crowd at the club, but his character comes off as a bit soppy. I fault the script for this.
The screenplay covers most of the main bases of the book but interrupts itself too often with sentimental moments of travelogue. You can always tell when one of these scenes is coming because the sitar music stops and Maurice Jarre's banal musical score swoops in and the characters stop moving and take up nobly profiled stances, gazing in awe at the scenery. At these moments this film becomes a National Geographic Special and one is whisked back to 10th grade geography class. This sentimentalism of Lean's is often the cause of flaws in his films, but they are beautiful to look at, as is 'A Passage to India'.
Not a great film but a top-drawer "comfort" movie.
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