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A Passage to India (1984) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • Cultural mistrust and false accusations doom a friendship in British colonial India between an Indian doctor, an Englishwoman engaged to marry a city magistrate, and an English educator.

  • It's the early 1920s. Britons Adela Quested and her probable future mother-in-law Mrs. Moore have just arrived in Chandrapore in British India to visit Adela's unofficial betrothed, Ronny Heaslop, who works there as the city's magistrate. Adela and Mrs. Moore, who long for "an adventure" in experiencing all India has to offer, are dismayed to learn upon their arrival that the ruling British do not socialize, let alone associate, with the native population, such people as the Turtons, Mr. Turton being Ronny's superior, who openly thumb their noses at the idea in their belief that the Indians are an inferior people. They are further dismayed to see that Ronny adheres to that custom in not wanting to jeopardize his career. At the local white only club, Adela and Mrs. Moore find a like-minded Brit in the form of Richard Fielding, the school master at government college, he who offers to organize a small, but truly inclusive, social gathering with some natives for them, unlike the large party the Turtons organize, where the natives are treated poorly, and are used more as window dressing for Adela and Mrs. Moore's benefit. In addition to Fielding's colleague, eccentric Brahmin scholar Professor Narayan Godbole, Adela, and Mrs. Moore would like to invite Aziz Ahmed, a young, widowed local physician with whom Mrs. Moore had a chance encounter. As Mrs. Moore is the first Brit who has ever treated him with kindness as she did at that encounter, Aziz is happy to attend. As Aziz wants to impress them by being what he thinks they want him to be, which is more western, he offers to organize an outing for this small collective to the Marabar Caves, which has some renown. The outing is despite Aziz never having been to the caves himself, and despite the expense to himself, that sum of money which he really can ill afford. Something that happens at the caves has the potential to bring the British-Indian bridge that has been forged within this small collective come crumbling down, that something which also threatens Aziz and Adela's lives in the process.

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  • Adela Quested, a young Englishwoman, travels to India in the late 1920s to visit her fiancé, a British magistrate posted in a small town. Her travelling companion is his mother Mrs. Moore. They want to see something of the country and to meet everyday Indians, but are frustrated by the British community's insistence that relations with the locals are best experienced from a distance. Finally, a friend introduces them to a Muslim doctor who Mrs. Moore had seen briefly on her visit to a mosque. He takes them on an outing to the nearby caverns (a local attraction), but what happens there threatens to destroy any civility between the British and Indian societies.


Spoilers

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Synopsis

  • The film is set in the 1920s during the period of growing influence of the Indian independence movement in the British Raj. Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft) and Adela Quested (Judy Davis) sail from England to India, where Ronny Heaslop (Nigel Havers), the older woman's son and younger woman's fiancé, is the local magistrate in the provincial town of Chandrapore. Through school superintendent Richard Fielding (James Fox), the two visitors meet eccentric elderly Brahmin scholar Professor Godbole (Alec Guinness), and they befriend Dr. Aziz Ahmed (Victor Banerjee), an impoverished widower who initially meets Mrs. Moore in a moonlit mosque overlooking the Ganges River. Their sensitivity and unprejudiced attitude toward native Indians endears them to him. When Mrs. Moore and Adela express an interest in seeing the "real" India, as opposed to the Anglicised environment of cricket, polo, and afternoon tea the British expatriates have created for themselves, Aziz offers to host an excursion to the remote Marabar Caves.

    The outing goes reasonably well until the two women begin exploring the caves with Aziz and his sizable entourage. Mrs. Moore experiences an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia that forces her to return to the open air. She encourages Adela and Aziz to continue their exploration but suggests they bring only one guide. The three set off for a series of caves far removed from the rest of the group, and before entering Aziz steps aside to smoke a cigarette. He returns to find Adela has disappeared; shortly after he sees her running headlong down the hill, bloody and dishevelled. Upon their return to town, Aziz is jailed to await trial for attempted rape, and an uproar ensues between the Indians and the Colonials.

    The case becomes a cause celebre among the British. When Mrs. Moore makes it clear she firmly believes in Aziz's innocence and will not testify against him, it is decided she should return to England. She subsequently suffers a fatal heart attack during the voyage and is buried at sea.

    To the consternation of her fiancé and friends, Adela has a change of heart and clears Aziz in open court. The Colonials are forced to make an ignominious retreat while the Indians carry the exonerated man out of the courtroom on their shoulders, cheering wildly. In the aftermath, Miss Quested breaks off her engagement and leaves India, while Dr. Aziz abandons his Western attire, dons traditional dress, and withdraws completely from Anglo-Indian society, opening a clinic in Northern India near the Himalayas. Although he remains angry and bitter for years, he eventually writes to Adela to convey his thanks and forgiveness.

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