A Passage to India (1984)

by guest writer

A Passage To India concludes Sir David Lean’s career with an adaptation after E.M. Foster’s novel written in 1924. The epic film sets out to present a mythical India in the times of British colonization. Can the English be friends with the Indians? This question haunts the viewer until the end of the film. David Lean uses every technical aspect at his command to present an objective portrait of a great nation and a diversified depiction of British behaviour in the India of the Raj. In this respect, you will first notice the outstanding colours which are foremost imposing, and yet warm. One representative scene can be mentioned here, the one in the mosque overlooking the Ganges River, where Aziz Ahmed (Victor Banerjee) and Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft) feel God’s presence in the moon light. The intense blue emphasizes a living experience.

Full of intensity and simplicity, Aziz is probably the quintessential character who embodies faith and wisdom. When Richard Fielding (James Fox) visits dr. Aziz as he is sick, the Indian, visibly embarassed by his poor way of living, shows the British officer a picture of his late wife, the only precious thing he owns, the only thing he considers is worth showing: “I’ve shown it to you because I have nothing else to show.” His character suffers a striking transfiguration during the film, from the veneration he feels towards the British in the beginning to repulsion and hatred towards the end of the movie.

The train becomes, once again, an element that will influence destinies and will change people. With A Passage to India, David Lean follows in the footsteps of such cinema figures as Jean Renoir, Roberto Rossellini and Fritz Lang: all these directors have successfully fulfilled a cinematic trip to a sacred India.

photos: stills from the film; production credits

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