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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
A Passage to India (1984)

"I'm sorry, Godbole, but I've had enough of showing Miss Quested India!"
- Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee)

Review By: debi lee mandel   
Published: March 25, 2001

Stars: Victor Banerjee, Judy Davis, Peggy Ashcroft, James Fox
Other Stars: Alec Guinness, Nigel Havers
Director: David Lean

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: PG for (erotic sculptures)
Run Time: 02h:43m:40s
Release Date: March 20, 2001
UPC: 043396058521
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

David Lean's last film adapts E. M. Forster's novel of a minor incident taken to epic proportion in 1928 India, attempting to faithfully adhere to Forster's vision. Wary of motion pictures, it wasn't until shortly before his death that Forster granted Lean the rights. The director's respect for the author's hesitance is evident in his fidelity to story details, which he takes as far as one can when distilling a novel to film. This attention, however, is also the film's weakness, as the depth of decisive elements is missing and those he did carry weigh it down.

Adela Quested (Davis) books passage to India to visit her fiancé, the current Magistrate of Chandrapore, with his elderly mother, Mrs. Moore (Ashcroft). The women come 5,000 miles to find they are still in the heart of everything British, from the voyage to the trains to the compound they settle into; they are quickly restless, longing for "adventure." Mrs. Moore is particularly uncomfortable with the sociopolitical climate; she is appalled by the open contempt displayed by her Imperialist countrymen for the natives they rule. She finds herself in a mosque in the moonlight where she happens on young Dr. Aziz (Banerjee) and they recognize each other instantly as kindred spirits. A few days later the ladies arrange to have tea with Richard Fielding, an official at the Government College, known to be friendly with Indians. Aziz is invited, as is Professor Godbole (Guinness), a strict Brahmin. This brief taste of connection with the British he has longed for emboldens the shy Aziz, and he invites the party on a picnic expedition to the nearby Marabar caves. The undertaking proves enormous as the young doctor arranges for his guests' every comfort. Against the strong disapproval of the Magistrate, the party sets off on a fateful dawn, ignoring the ominous mishaps that occur that will eventually bring tragedy and ruin to the great day.

What did—or did not—happen at the Marabar Caves is the crucial event in this racial drama. In a matter of an hour, everything changes and the lives of the inhabitants of Chandrapore are altered forever. But it is the question of India and British Imperialism that is on trial here, and Forster's concern—that weight would be assigned to one side or the other in his story's adaptation to film—is treated delicately in Lean's able hands.

Judy Davis brings an eerie mix of naïveté and aggression to the pallid, traumatized Miss Quested, who is overwhelmed by her own amplified senses in this mysterious and exotic environment. Early on, she takes a bicycle ride into the countryside and comes to the ruins of a Tantric temple. Surrounded by the blatantly erotic sculptures hidden in the jungle, Adela is first intrigued and then repelled, and Davis portrays her confusion adeptly. Peggy Ashcroft, who won an Oscar® as the taboo-breaking Mrs. Moore, is stunningly comfortable in the skin of the only genuinely available character in this difficult story (in the novel, the frail and kindly Mrs. Moore is raised to the level of a demigod). James Fox is ever steady as Fielding, and while Alec Guinness puts on his accent with acceptable authenticity, he cannot have been the best choice for the Brahmin mystic. These great Western actors almost dissolve into caricatures next to Victor Banerjee, whose face both portrays and betrays every emotion his Dr. Aziz experiences in his internal struggle between his warrior ancestry, his Indian culture and his fascination with the British Raj.

Lean's love of the active horizontal is used at every opportunity here: the term "sweeping epic" can only have been invented for him. His long, wide, lingering shots are as awe-inspiring as they are in his Lawrence of Arabia or Dr. Zhivago, much like Asian pictorial scrolls come to life: one is thankful for widescreen format in almost every scene. They subtly underscore the psychological effects a place has on the subconscious of its inhabitants and conveys this to the viewer in a way no dialogue or action can.

A Passage to India suffers from the quandary faced by many filmmakers: how to adapt a novel with fidelity and carry the story to its conclusion in a reasonable viewing time. The psychology of these particular characters in their place and time is crucial to understanding the events that occur; then there are the events, the consequences and the resolution to capture and convey.

Lean has made a valiant effort, and for me, it is not the length or the pace but the impotence of the ending that disappoints. When Lean's Fielding and Aziz meet again, they seem intrinsically intact, whereas Forster's characters manifest the shattered remains of their era.

"East is East, Mrs. Moore. It's a question of culture."
- Mrs. Turton

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Columbia TriStar presents A Passage to India in anamorphic, widescreen format. The colors are rich in detail, from the saffron-colored leis to the snowy peaks of the Himalayas. Fleshtones are especially realistic and the contrast is excellent throughout. There seemed to be some noticeable compression from time to time, especially in the wide vistas, but nothing distracting.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrench, Spanishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Surround surprised me, coming much fuller than I expected. I did, however, miss the impact a 5.1 track would have made on the mystical echoes inside the Marabar Caves. Dialogue and score (which earned an Oscar® for composer Maurice Jarre) both come through even-handed and clear. Both the French and Spanish tracks are serviceable, but the efforts of Guinness' accent are sadly lost. I recommend the subtitles.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Guns of Navarone
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:25m:14s

Extras Review: Extras here are lean and basically inconsequential. There is an interesting but much too brief featurette, Reflections of David Lean, which presents excerpts from a longer interview with the acclaimed director, interspersed with film clips from this title as well as some of Lean's most beloved masterpieces. Widescreen trailers are included for Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Guns of Navarone. Talent files are brief with the filmographies of top players. The insert includes interesting production notes.

Thanks to CTHV for subtitles in all three languages available as soundtracks; however, those with anamorphic screens will not be happy because longer sentences wrap below their vision.

Excerpts from the classic novel by E.M. Forster would have been a welcome and helpful feature.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

David Lean's last film is an intimate epic that brings the sociopolitical extravagance of Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago down to the microcosm of a singular event in provincial India. Luxurious and dusty, A Passage to India is a tense story of racism and disillusion that is all-too-relevant today. Imagine Spike Lee on the colonial subcontinent in the 1920s, and I'm sure you'll "do the right thing" and see why it garnered 11 Academy Award® nominations.


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