A Passage to India (film)
|A Passage to India|
Original theatrical poster
|Directed by||David Lean|
|Produced by||John Brabourne
Richard B. Goodwin
|Screenplay by||David Lean|
|Based on||A Passage to India
by E. M. Forster
|Music by||Maurice Jarre|
|Editing by||David Lean|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Running time||163 minutes|
|Box office||$27,187,653 (US) |
A Passage to India is a 1984 drama film written and directed by David Lean. The screenplay is based on the 1924 novel of the same title by E. M. Forster and the 1960 play by Santha Rama Rau that was inspired by the novel.
This was the final film of Lean's career, and the first he had made in 14 years. A Passage to India received eleven nominations at the Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Lean, and Best Actress for Judy Davis for her portrayal as Adela Quested. The movie won two awards. Peggy Ashcroft won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal as Mrs. Moore, making her, at 77, the oldest actress ever to win the award, and Maurice Jarre won his third award for Best Original Score.
The film is set in the 1920s during the period of growing influence of the Indian independence movement in the British Raj. Adela Quested (Judy Davis) and Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft) 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 take 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. Fielding looks after Adela as she has no one else to turn to. In the aftermath, Miss Quested breaks off her engagement and leaves India, while Dr. Aziz, feeling betrayed by his friend Fielding, abandons his Western attire, dons traditional dress, and withdraws completely from Anglo-Indian society, opening a clinic in Northern India, in Kashmir near the Himalayas. Although he remains angry and bitter for years, he eventually reconciles with Fielding and writes to Adela to convey his thanks and forgiveness.
E. M. Forster began to write A Passage to India during a stay in India in 1911 (he was drawn there by a Muslim he had tutored while both were students at Cambridge), but completed it only after he returned to India as a private secretary to a maharajah in 1921. The novel was published in 1924. It differs from Forster's other major works in its overt political content, as opposed to the lighter tone and more subdued political subtext contained in works such as Howards End and A Room With a View .
A Passage to India deals with the delicate balance between the English and the Indians during the British Raj. It follows the story of a British woman, Adela Quested, who is perhaps sexually assaulted by the Indian, Dr. Aziz, while on a sightseeing tour of the dark, whispering Marabar caves. Aziz is accused of rape, the British community is outraged, but the Indians strongly support Dr. Aziz, who claims his innocence. The question of what really happened at the caves remains unanswered in the novel. A Passage to India sold well and was widely praised in literary circles. It is generally regarded as Foster's best novel, quickly becoming a classic of English literature.
During years a number of film directors were interested in adapting the novel to the big screen, but Forster, who was criticized when the novel was published, rejected every offer to buy the film rights believing that any film of his novel would be a travesty. He feared that whoever made it would come down on the side of the English or the Indians, and he wanted it balanced. However he did allow Indian authoress Santha Rama Rau to adapt the novel for the theater. The play, staged as a courtroom drama, starts in Fielding's house with Aziz doing the collar scene and ends at the trial. It was produced for the Oxford Playhouse, later moving to the West End in London in 1960 for 261 performances. The play was directed by Frank Hauser, with Pakistani actor Zia Mohyeddin as Aziz, Norman Woddland as Fielding, and Enid Lorimer as Mrs. Moore.
David Lean had read the novel and saw the play in London in 1960 and, impressed, he attempted to purchase the rights at that time, but Forster, who had rejected Santha Rama Rau’s suggestion to allow the famous Indian film director Satyajit Ray to make a film, still said no. Forster, however, allowed the play to be made for television by the BBC in 1965. This production was directed by Waris Hussein, an Indian working for the BBC. Zia Mohyeddin was cast as Aziz and Sybil Thorndike played Mrs Moore. The television play was also well received. However, having given this limited permission, Forster remained adamant in his denial on anyone trying to make a film out of his novel. Following Forster's death in 1970, the self-governing board of fellows of King's College at Cambridge inherited the rights to his books. However Donald A Parry, chief executor, turned down all approaches, including those of Joseph Losey, Ismael Merchant and James Ivory, and Waris Hussein, who after adapting Santha Rama Rau’s play now wanted to make a feature film. Only ten years later, when Professor Bernard Williams, a film enthusiast, became chief executor, the rights for the film adaptation became available.
Lord Brabourne, (John Knatchbull, 7th Baron Brabourne), whose father had been Governor of Bombay and later Governor of Bengal, and who was married to the daughter of Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy, had been after the rights for twenty years. He had produced a series of films based on Agatha Christie’s mysteries including the 1974 Murder on the Orient Express. In March 1981, John Brabourne and his business partner, Richard Gooddwin, finally obtained the rights to make a film adaptation of A Passage to India.  The contract stipulated that Santha Rama Rau would write the screenplay and it reserved the rights to approve the director. Brabourne, a great admirer of the film Doctor Zhivago, wanted David Lean to direct the film. By September 1981, Lean had been approved as a director and Santha Rama Rau had completed a draft of the script.
When Brabourne asked David Lean to direct A Passage to India, the famous director was ready to break his 14-year-long hiatus from filmmaking following the mostly negative reviews he received for Ryan's Daughter in 1970. Since then, Lean had fought hard to make a two-part epic telling the true story of the mutiny on the Bounty, for which he could not get the necessary financing, and had given some thought about doing Out of Africa, based on the book by Isak Dinesen of which Sydney Pollack ultimately directed a version in 1985.
The contract stipulated that Santha Rama Rau would write the screenplay. She had met E. M. Forster personally; had successfully adapted A Passage to India into a play; and the famous author had left her in charge of keeping the spirit of the novel. However, Lean was determined to have much input in the writing process. He got together with Santha Rama Rau in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, and during ten days they did nothing other than talk about the novel and discuss the script. However, her script pleased neither the producer, John Brabourne, nor David Lean. They considered it too worldly and literary, the work of a playwright and unsuited for film. In 1982, Lean wrote his own script, first spending six months in Delhi, and he finished it in Switzerland. Lean met with the committee at King's College at Cambridge to reassure them about his good intentions with the material. He reminded them that "even if the film turned out a complete disaster, it would be gone in six months while the novel will go on living forever."
The director cast Australian actress Judy Davis, then 28, as the naive Miss Quested after a two-hour interview. When Davis gave her interpretation of what happened in the caves- “She can’t cope with her own sexuality, she just freaks out”- Lean told her the part was hers. Davis had garnered international attention in Gillian Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career (1979) and had also appeared in A Woman Called Golda (1982) as a young Golda Meir.
Lean strongly wanted Celia Johnson, star of Brief Encounter, to play Mrs. Moore, but she turned down the part and died 30 months before the film was released. The director then offered the part to Peggy Ashcroft, a legendary stage actress who had appeared in films only sporadically. She was not enthusiastic when Lean asked her to be Mrs. Moore. "Mr Lean, I’m seventy five years old," she protested. "So am I," he replied. Although she had just worked in India on the T.V. miniseries The Jewel in the Crown, she admitted, "I thought, 'Oh dear, I really don’t want to do it', but it’s very difficult to turn down a Lean film."
Satyajit Ray, who had hoped to direct his own film adaptation of A Passage to India, recommended the 38-year-old Bengali actor Victor Banerjee for the role of Dr. Aziz. The character required a mixture of foolishness, bravery, honor and anger. After some hesitation, Lean cast Banerjee, but the director had to overcome the restrictions of British equity in order to employ an Indian actor. When Lean got his way, the casting made headlines in India. "It was a matter of national pride that an Indian was cast instead of an Asian from England," observed Banerjee.
Peter O'Toole was Lean's original choice to play Fielding. The role eventually went to James Fox. Despite having quarrelled with Lean in the early 1960s about a proposed film about Gandhi that ultimately was scrapped, Alec Guinness agreed to portray Professor Godbole. The relationship between the two men deteriorated during filming, and when Guinness discovered much of his performance was left on the cutting room floor due to time constraints, he took it as a personal affront. Guinness would not speak to Lean for years afterwards, only patching things up in the last years of Lean's life. Nigel Hawthorne was cast as Turton but became ill and was replaced on-set by Richard Wilson.
The Marabar Caves are based on the Barabar Caves, some 35 km north of Gaya. Lean visited the caves during pre-production but found them unphotogenic; concerns about bandits were also prevalent. Instead he used two separate hills a few miles from Bangalore, where much of the principal filming occurred, and the caves themselves were created by the production company. Other scenes were filmed in Ramanagaram, and some interiors were shot at the Shepperton Studios in Surrey.
Critical reception 
Lean's final film became one of the critics' most favorite films of 1984, opening to tremendous praise around the world. Vincent Canby of the New York Times called Lean's film "his best work since The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia and perhaps his most humane and moving film since Brief Encounter. Though vast in physical scale and set against a tumultuous Indian background, it is also intimate, funny and moving in the manner of a film maker completely in control of his material . . . Though [Lean] has made A Passage to India both less mysterious and more cryptic than the book, the film remains a wonderfully provocative tale, full of vivid characters, all played to near perfection . . . The film contains a rather major flaw, one that keeps a very good film from being great. Though A Passage to India . . . is essentially a dark comedy of manners, Mr. Lean sometimes appears to think of it as a romance . . . This is the only explanation for the terrible Maurice Jarre score, which contradicts the images and sounds like a reworking of the music he wrote for Mr. Lean's unsuccessful Ryan's Daughter. This score has nothing to do with Forster, India, the time or the story, but it has everything to do with movie-making in the 1960s, when soundtrack music first became a major element in the merchandising of movies, including Mr. Lean's Dr. Zhivago." 
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times observed, "Forster's novel is one of the literary landmarks of this century, and now David Lean has made it into one of the greatest screen adaptations I have ever seen . . . [He] is a meticulous craftsman, famous for going to any lengths to make every shot look just the way he thinks it should. His actors here are encouraged to give sound, thoughtful, unflashy performances . . . and his screenplay is a model of clarity." 
Variety called the film "impeccably faithful, beautifully played and occasionally languorous" and added, "Lean has succeeded to a great degree in the tricky task of capturing Forster's finely edged tone of rational bemusement and irony." 
Time Out London thought the film was "a curiously modest affair, abandoning the tub-thumping epic style of Lean's late years. While adhering to perhaps 80 per cent of the book's incident, Lean veers very wide of the mark over E.M. Forster's hatred of the British presence in India, and comes down much more heavily on the side of the British. But he has assembled his strongest cast in years . . . And once again Lean indulges his taste for scenery, demonstrating an ability with sheer scale which has virtually eluded British cinema throughout its history. Not for literary purists, but if you like your entertainment well tailored, then feel the quality and the width." 
Channel 4 said, "Lean was always preoccupied with landscapes and obsessed with the perfect shot - but here his canvas is way smaller than in Lawrence of Arabia, for instance . . . Still, while the storytelling is rather toothless, A Passage to India is certainly well worth watching for fans of the director's epic style." 
Awards and nominations 
- Academy Awards
- Academy Award for Best Picture (John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin, nominees)
- Academy Award for Best Director (David Lean, nominee)
- Academy Award for Best Actress (Judy Davis, nominee)
- Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Peggy Ashcroft, winner)
- Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (David Lean, nominee)
- Academy Award for Best Art Direction (John Box and Hugh Scaife, nominees)
- Academy Award for Best Cinematography (Ernest Day, nominee)
- Academy Award for Best Costume Design (Judy Moorcroft, nominee)
- Academy Award for Best Film Editing (David Lean, nominee)
- Academy Award for Best Sound (Graham V. Hartstone, Nicolas Le Messurier, Michael A. Carter and John W. Mitchell, nominees)
- Academy Award for Best Original Score (Maurice Jarre, winner)
- Golden Globes
- Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film (winner)
- Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture (Peggy Ashcroft, winner)
- Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score (Maurice Jarre, winner)
- Golden Globe Award for Best Director (David Lean, nominee)
- Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay (David Lean, nominee)
- BAFTA Award for Best Film (nominee)
- BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Peggy Ashcroft, winner)
- BAFTA Award for Best Actor (Victor Banerjee, nominee)
- BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (James Fox, nominee)
- BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (David Lean, nominee)
- BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography (Ernest Day, nominee)
- BAFTA Award for Best Costume Design (Judy Moorcroft, nominee)
- BAFTA Award for Best Production Design (John Box, nominee)
- BAFTA Award for Best Film Music (Maurice Jarre, nominee)
- Other awards
- Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress (Judy Davis, winner)
- Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress (Peggy Ashcroft, winner)
- Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing - Feature Film (David Lean, nominee)
- Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actor (Victor Banerjee, winner)
- Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Film (winner)
- Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director (David Lean, winner)
- Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress (Peggy Ashcroft, winner)
- Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress (Peggy Ashcroft, winner)
- National Board of Review Award for Best Picture (winner)
- National Board of Review Award for Best Actor (Victor Banerjee, winner)
- National Board of Review Award for Best Actress (Peggy Ashcroft, winner)
- National Board of Review Award for Best Director (David Lean, winner)
- New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Film (winner)
- New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress (Peggy Ashcroft, winner)
- New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director (David Lean, winner)
- Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (David Lean, nominee)
Home video 
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the first DVD on 20 March 2001. It was in anamorphic widescreen format with audio tracks and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. Bonus features included Reflections of David Lean, an interview with the screenwriter/director, cast biographies, and production notes.
On 9 September 2003, Columbia Pictures released the box set The David Lean Collection, which included Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and A Passage to India.
On 15 April 2008, Sony released A Passage To India (2-Disc Collector's Edition). In addition to Reflections of David Lean from the 2001 release, bonus features included commentary with producer Richard B. Goodwin; E.M. Forster: A Profile of an Author, covering some of the main themes of the original book; An Epic Takes Shape, in which cast and crew members discuss the evolution of the film; An Indian Affair, detailing the primary production period; Only Connect: A Vision of India, detailing the final days of shooting at Shepperton Studios and the post-production period; Casting a Classic, in which casting director Priscilla John discusses the challenges of bringing characters from the book to life; and David Lean: Shooting with the Master, a profile of the director. On April 15 2008, Sony released a Blu-ray HD Collector's Edition. With a restored print and new digital mastering.
- Alexander Walker, Icons in the Fire: The Rise and Fall of Practically Everyone in the British Film Industry 1984-2000, Orion Books, 2005 p35
- Phillips, Gene D., Beyond the Epic: The Life & Films of David Lean
- Read, Piers Paul, Alec Guinness: The Authorized Biography.
- New York Times review
- Chicago Sun-Times review
- Variety review
- Time Out London review
- Channel 4 review
- "The 57th Academy Awards (1985) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-13.
- Phillips, Gene D., Beyond the Epic: The Life & Films of David Lean. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky 2006. ISBN 0-8131-2415-8
- Read, Piers Paul, Alec Guinness: The Authorized Biography. New York: Simon and Schuster 2005. ISBN 0-7432-4498-2
- A Passage to India at the Internet Movie Database
- A Passage to India at Rotten Tomatoes
- A Passage to India at Turner Classic Movies
- Photos and notes of locations used in A Passage to India