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1954, the Malabar Coast. British and Anglo-Indian identities blur when an English-woman with a neglectful husband births a sickly baby. Cotton Mary, a hospital aide and moralizing Anglophile who claims her father was a British officer, takes over the infant's care and, without a word to the mother, takes the baby daily to her sister to nurse. Mary moves into the English household, taking over more and more duties as she plays on the mother's fatigue and lack of spousal counsel: in effect, Mary colonizes the English household while she pilfers its stores and tells tall tales to her own family. For how long can Mary sustain her rule before the Englishwoman stands on her own feet? Written by
I have seen Cotton Mary two or three times and I recommend it to my friends both Indian and American who have an interest in well directed and acted movies and who have an understanding of complex social issues around the world. Cotton Mary is an example of such a movie and it will stand as one of the best dealing with the subject of social class distinctions.As we know, the Merchant-Ivory team almost always makes excellent movies on historical and social issues and Cotton Mary is no exception.
What one learns from this almost factual story is that people of mixed English and Indian race in India are shunned by the former because they are colored and by the caste Hindus as being the product of unclean union. Hindus may show outward respect for the English but in truth the English are viewed as meat eating,promiscuous out castes not fit for marriage or intimate relations. This aspect was not shown in this film although English contempt for the Anglo-Indian was clearly illustrated. The third part of the equation, namely the Anglo-Indian,tried hard to assimilate English ways perhaps for reasons of economic advancement in British India and tried to assume superiority over the Indian not realizing that their English ancestry was no advantage in India or England. I am sure at least some members of the current Anglo-Indian community in India would feel resentment when they view this film as it shows them in a bad light which they may disagree with but nevertheless is true. Another movie on the subject, Bhowani Junction,shows Ava Gardner as the Anglo-Indian suffering rejection in India. Madhur Jaffry's role as well as that of her daughter,Sakina Jaffry were exemplary but that of Greta Scacchi was lukewarm and unconvincing. On the whole it is one of Merchant's best movies.
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