The dominant voice in the literary and later cinematic account of the British occupation of India is that of Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936). He was born in Bombay and lived there in his parents’ home until the age of five, when he was sent back to England for a proper education. This exotic childhood imprinted his earliest memories with stories of India, told by his nanny. In his later years, as a highly successful author, he brought these tales to life on the pages of his books. Best known of these works was The Jungle Book (1894). Most of them have become 20th century movies. See Movie Dreamtime: Talking Animals. His mature output was famous for its defense of British imperialism, inspiring equal measures of anger and admiration. The seven movies listed below are directly or indirectly related to the work of Kipling.
Gunga Din (1939)
Jungle Book (1942)
The Jungle Book (1967) – Disney
The Song of India (1949)
The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
My Boy Jack (2007)
The films listed below are celebrations of British military bravado during the occupation of India in the time of Empire. More of these can be seen under Africa. See South Africa: The Zulu Movies. The two movies on the The Charge of the Light Brigade are set in the Crimea, part of Russia. They are included here because they are the same generation of troops that served the crown in India. The 1968 version attempts to make a post-paradigm satire of British self-importance and a tragic military blunder, but it misses the mark by a long shot.
The Deceivers (1988)
The Far Pavilions (1983)
The Drum (1938) – British
The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)
The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968)
A Passage to India (1984)
This is the best film I have found for a balanced view of relationships between the colonial British and the people of India. It is, even so, a British film, based on the novel by E. M. Forster (1924).
Lagaan (2001) – India
Here the struggle is for equality under the yoke of the British Raj in 1893. The primary characters are a motley group of villagers who are in despair because they have been told that this year they must pay double tax (lagaan). There has been no rain and they are in fear of starving. When storm clouds approach the village in a great armada, the people break into the obligatory Bollywood song and dance, and the clouds pass by. When a group of village men go to the British commander to protest the tax, they are challenged by the arrogant officer to beat the British in a game of Cricket and the tax will be forgiven for three years. A brash young villager named Bhuvan accepts the challenge to the consternation of his neighbors. A pretty young British woman, the commander’s sister, elects to secretly help the villagers learn the game in the interest of equality. The racial lines are clearly drawn. The British refer to the local men as “darkies,” and the villagers speak in awe of the White Lady.
The villagers congregate one evening to express their hopes of victory in another long production number. Bhuvan is the lead singer. The commander is called to headquarters where he is warned that if he loses the game he will pay the taxes out of his own pocket. He returns to his quarters and beats one of his servants. More and more capable men are drawn to join Bhuvan’s team. The exuberant dancing of the villagers is contrasted with the ballroom dancing of the Victorian British. An informant tells the commander of the White Lady’s help for the team. She is falling in love with Bhuvan and gets her own Julie Andrews-style song. Bhuvan, meanwhile is unaware of the Memsahib’s love, and relieves the jealousy of his girlfriend by declaring himself to her. They sing a long romantic duet in counterpoint to the Memsahib’s song. When Bhuvan puts a crippled untouchable on the team, there are objections and he gives an impassioned speech on tolerance. Those who objected are repentant. The team does a big production number to ratchet up their courage. There is a good deal of Hindu imagery, though there are Muslims on the team as well. The team enters the field with a Hail Hanuman!
A great crowd gathers on the hillsides for the big match. The villagers play an unconventional game but there is no doubt that it is a psychodrama of the People against the Tyrant. The first day of play does not go well. When the White Lady comes to inform Bhuvan that there is a traitor on the team, the villagers chase the offender into a house, but Bhuvan saves him and enlists his help in winning. It goes on for several days and makes for a very long movie (3 hours, 45 minutes). In the end it is the crippled untouchable and the traitor who help save the day. The hatred for the oppressors grows to epic proportions. Before the last day, the People sing a long and reverent song to the Lord of the Universe, their Savior, the God of Peace, beseeching his favor in the next day’s effort. I will refrain from revealing the ending, although I think the only surprises will be in the play-by-play details of the game. The mock-epic narrator relates a fitting epilogue in which the game of cricket acts as a foretaste of coming independence for India. Michael Wood uses a scene from this movie in his documentary on India, celebrating the restorative powers of the Monsoon.