Merchant Ivory may not have made ‘A Passage to India’, as I had hoped they would, but they did create the film version of the novel ‘Heat and Dust’ by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, cementing a creative friendship which resulted in many high class films. This film remains a favourite. There are two stands to this film, each in a different time zone, before they come together in the end.
The first strand takes place in the 20s where a young woman’s marriage to a British officer is under strain, in part because she does not fit in or share the views of Indians expressed by the ruling classes. The second strand takes place in the present which, as the film was released in 1983, makes it the 80s! In this strand a woman named Ann travels to India in search of information about her great aunt. It turns out that the young woman from the first strand is the family member she seeks.
Ann has inherited letters and a diary from her great aunt. Her attempt to piece together the story of her life leads her to India. Throughout the film, we switch from following Ann to seeing the story she is searching for. In her pursuit of the past, Ann encounters a different India and parts of her life mirror her great Aunt’s.
In both stories there is a meeting of East and West. Indians and British meet and fall in love and the attitudes of the past are sometimes reflected in the present.
‘Heat and Dust’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?