A Passage to India Movie ReviewThe worst thing that colonialism

A Passage to India

-Movie Review

“The worst thing that colonialism did was to cloud our view of the past.”

-Barack Obama

‘A Passage to India’ directed by David Lean and released in 1984 is an epic historical drama which has been universally acknowledged as one of his finest works. The movie went on to receive eleven nominations at the Academy Awards and gave an eye opening account of colonialism and how it affected the dynamic between the British and Indians and was understood differently by both of them.

The movie can essentially be divided into two halves, the events leading up to the incident in the Malabar Caves and its succeeding repercussions which almost tore apart the already strained relationship between the British and Indians at the seams.

The movie puts forward an accurate depiction of Anglo-Indian social life as it was during the 1920’s and explores two distinct themes in that context: the oppressive treatment of Indians at the hands of British and the possibility or rather the impossibility of English-Indian friendship.

The first half of the movie lays down the groundwork by establishing the vicious nature of British rule and their sheer disregard for the wellbeing of Indians. Life in Chandrapore is deeply divided along racial lines, which was illustrated time and again by the racist and condescending attitude of the British towards Indians. Indians in the movie were depicted to be exotic, backwards and passive who were singularly incapable of ruling themselves and were being done a favour by bringing them under British rule.

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This took its most vitriolic form through characters like Mrs Turton and was seen frequently in other instances when Ronny, the Magistrate of Chandrapore, made it clear to his fianc?, Mrs Adela and his mother Mrs Moore that it was beneath him to have any relationship with these ‘inferior people’. However, we also have an Englishman, Mr Fielding who was much more sympathetic and understanding towards his Indian counterparts. This led to the blossoming of an honest friendship between Fielding and Dr. Aziz. However, that could not last for too long as Fielding’s support for Adela post the trial led to their friendship falling apart. The last scene captured the limbo which the two found their friendship to be in beautifully. Fielding driving away with his wife in the car, possibly never to be seen again, was symbolic of his and Aziz’s friendship which might recover eventually but not yet.

The carefully planned excursion to the Malabar caves planned by Dr. Aziz with Mrs Adela and Mrs Moore eventually turned out to have disastrous consequences due to the subsequent misunderstandings which arose. As established by Adela’s testimony in Court that she was not assaulted by Aziz in the caves, we can come to the conclusion that Aziz was innocent. Adela’s world was already falling apart after coming to India due to realisation that she wasn’t in love with Ronny. With all that was happening in her life, coupled with the physical discomfort which she found herself in, it was possible that in a state of hallucination, she imagined that Dr. Aziz wanted to violate her. The preconceived notions of Indians as sexual predators and other prejudices which became ingrained in her due to the society she was a part of further reinforced her belief. However, she had the strength of character while standing on trial to come to the realisation that her accusation was baseless and admitted her mistake.

During the trial, we also witness the flawed notions of gender and race which was prevalent among the British. The lawyer representing Adela, Mr. McBryde time and again made prejudiced statements as he tried to establish that Adela being white and belonging to the more attractive race could obviously lead to the conclusion that Aziz was the one who had assaulted her. McBryde also argued that the native Indians as a general rule felt an unnatural sexual attraction towards British women which further strengthened their case. Such racially coloured statements time and again made it clear to the viewers about the lens through which the British viewed Indians and the sheer disregard and contempt which they felt towards them. In any criminal system, the burden of proof lies on the party making the accusation and one needs to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict the accused. However, in the present case, the British proceeded with a presumption of guilt against Dr. Aziz without any substantive evidence besides their prevailing bias and prejudice, thus making a mockery of the criminal justice system.

One of the criticisms which could be levelled against this movie is its clich?d and stereotypical portrayal of Indian society, which Edward Said talked about in his book ‘Orientalism’. In ‘Orientalism’, Said criticizes the exaggeration of difference and the presumption of superiority which the West adopts while studying the Oriental world by applying clich?d analytical models. In the movie, David Lean sadly takes a similar approach in creating an image of Bengal in the first half of the movie, along the lines of traditional notions of India as the ‘land of snake charmers’ which is prevalent in the Western world. Signs of orientalism can also be seen in the stark difference between the characters of Dr. Aziz and Mr. Fielding. Aziz’s character in the movie is reminiscent of the West’s traditional notion of an Indian being an impulsive person driven by emotion instead of hard logic. He suffers from a severe inferiority complex and is contrasted with Mr. Fielding who is the epitome of everything that is best in the British as he is seen to be calm and calculated whatever be the circumstances which might arise.

I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone due to its nuanced portrayal of British Imperialism and how it affected the relationship between British and Indian characters, knowingly or unknowingly. The movie is also taken up several notches due to the outstanding performances given by the actors. James Fox gave the performance of a lifetime in his portrayal of Richard Fielding as a man who was willing to forego his own society in order to prove the innocence of a man who he considered to be his friend who otherwise was shunned by his British peers. Peggy Ashcroft rightfully won the Academy Award for best supporting actress for her portrayal of Mrs Moore as one of the few who were able to set aside the prevalent stereotypes and the judge the Indians and Aziz for the loving and caring person he was. Even the questionable casting of Alec Guiness as the Indian professor Godbole proved to be a masterstroke. Thus, all things considered, I would give the movie 4 out of 5 stars.

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A Passage to India Movie ReviewThe worst thing that colonialism. (2019, Nov 29). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/a-passage-to-india-movie-reviewthe-worst-thing-that-colonialism-best-essay/

A Passage to India Movie ReviewThe worst thing that colonialism
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