Starring: Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft, Alec Guiness
Director: David Lean
There are some wonderful observations on the nature of colonialism in David Lean’s screen adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel A Passage to India, and some truly marvellous visions like painted elephants transporting English ladies up a rock face that’s strangely reminiscent of Uluru. But the main journey is undertaken by a delightful young Indian doctor named Aziz H. Ahmed (Victor Banerjee) who is transformed from a Brit wannabe to a proud native of his land through a harrowing trial by fire.
The time is 1928 and rather than invite the newly arrived Mrs Moore (Peggy Ashcroft) and her future daughter-in-law Adela Quested (Judy Davis) to his meagre home, Aziz offers to show them some of the real India they profess to hanker after. Although he has never been to the fictitious Marabar Caves himself, he arranges a guided tour and enlists the help of a sympathetic Englishman named Richard Fielding (James Fox). When he first visits him, Fielding is searching for his shirt collar stud and without a moment’s hesitation Aziz removes his own and hands it over. Later, at a ridiculously pompous Raj garden party, Adela’s betrothed dismisses Aziz as uncivilised for not wearing one. It’s just one example of the massive culture clash that will be the empire’s eventual undoing on the sub-continent.
Another pivotal moment is when Adela has an out of body experience in the caves and accuses the innocent Aziz of rape. Was it sun-stroke that made her do it? Was it the realisation of the gaping chasm between her world and this exotic new land? Or was it her own suppressed sexuality swamping her with its primal force? These questions are never really answered but by the end of this epic film we’re left in no doubt as to who really belongs in India.