India: North & South

From the Caravan Journals: For me, it was impossible at first to even think of wrapping up the history and culture of India in a neat movie package. This is the place, more than any other I know, that wants the experience to wash over and around you like a river before any attempt is made to hazard a description. A first experience of India is, for my money, a memory treasure that will last forever. Its not just one thing. Its everything put together: the teeming streets, the cows in the marketplace, the ruined palaces, the mix of cultures, the elephants, the genteel vestiges of colonialism, the ever-present poverty, and above all, the colors. Its too much to take in with just one trip and yet it all unfurls like an intricately designed carpet.

We have made two trips to India, one to the north in 2005, and later to the south in 2011. After we had done this, it became my project to put together a portrait of this diverse nation through the multiple lenses of the movies. On the first trip, our plane landed in New Delhi and we had little chance to look around before we flew off again for a side excursion to the small nation of Bhutan in the Himalayas. The present topography of India was formed when the subcontinent made its tectonic migration up from the shores of Africa and rammed into the southern edge of Asia. The rocky peaks of the Himalayas were thrust up in magnificent array and that is how we know the northern border of India today.

It was from these peaks, on the border with Nepal, that the Ganges River flowed southeast to the sea. Buddha was born in these domains and followed the Ganges into India. Long before the Buddha walked this way, the ancient Harappan culture flourished and died in the Indus Valley at the western end of the mountains (today”s Pakistan). Vedic culture laid the foundations for Hinduism. From this same corner, Muslim conquerors came to stay for a thousand years. Hinduism escaped to the south, Buddhism went first to the island of Sri Lanka off the southeastern coast and later to the mountains in the north. The British arrived with their civilizing mission in the 19th century (giving us a roster of movies) and Gandhi led the country to independence from the British in 1947. See Gandhi (1982).

Modern India has developed a very strong film industry based primarily in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) on the West Coast, and also in Chennai on the East Coast. The extensive output of Bollywood or Kollywood films has unique appeal for its own population, but occasionally there are crossover works that capture the attention of the rest of the world.

For a full list of movies viewed for this website, go to Movie Archive, above.