Image Of British Colonial Conquest in the Movie Passage to India
The movie that is based on E.M. Forster’s novel of the same name, A Passage to India, is set in the 1920s where the Indian Independence Struggle was at its pinnacle. Adela, the protagonist’s visit to India can be viewed as an exploration of the biggest British colony; and also as the exploration of the characters themselves, especially Adela herself.
The Britishers justified their colonial conquests as A White Man’s Burden to civilize the orient that is “primitive” and “savage”. They arrived in India with the romantic views of uplifting the masses but eventually turn inhumane and beastly in their conduct as they “struggle” to maintain their sanity in the “muddle” that India is. As Mahmoud Ali, Dr. Aziz’s friend says when McBryde first came to India, he was quite a good fellow. Dr. Aziz replies that they all become the same within two years while women take just six months. Dr. Aziz clearly understands that it is Mrs. Moore’s first visit to India from the way she addresses him for the first time. It is because of the unusual kind behavior from a Britisher towards an Indian.
The British hegemony sustained for a period of two centuries over India, mostly because they could successfully portray themselves as the advanced and intellectual race that is superior to the natives. They developed a class of Indians who had brown skin but white mind to serve their imperialistic goals. However, the Britishers maintained a strict demarcation between themselves and the natives.
People like Mrs. Moore and Adela, who visited India for the first time held romantic views regarding British colonization. They were appalled to see the sad state of affairs of the Indians, specifically the widening gap between the Britishers and the natives. Whereas people like Mrs. Turton and Mrs. Callendar who have been living in India not just despise Indians but also maintain a long distance from the natives.
The colonizers achieved their purpose by pushing the natives to the margins and themselves occupying the center. Their lifestyle and their ideals are seen as the norms whereas those of the natives as uncivilized. The process of “othering” is very much in play throughout the story. Indians are not allowed in the British club. A much senior and older Indian officer, Das acts as Ronny’s deputy because the promotion was based on colour and not on merit or experience.
Indians are viewed as foolish. This is a common depiction of the natives in postcolonial narratives where the orient is shown as weak, foolish, inferior, and effeminate, whereas the colonized is depicted as the savior, the civilized, the powerful, and the masculine figure. In this one scene onboard the train to Marabar Caves, Dr. Aziz’s aid is shown cooking in the washroom.
The movie is an apt representation of how the west views the east. It is replete with the typical symbols associated with India. The opening credits are presented in the background of Indian mural paintings. Adela’s fascination with India begins with a picture of Marabar Caves, symbolic of the mysticism synonymous with India. No picture of India is complete without showing the natives in abject poverty, the dirt, the snake charmers, and most importantly, people riding on elephants.
There are many instances highlighting the stark contrast between Britishers and Indians. Indian poverty has been juxtaposed to British extravagance. Where the colonized sleep comfortably in the first-class compartment of the trains, there are innumerable natives cramped up in a small space, sleeping amidst the excruciating noise of the passing train. Hundreds of thousands of Indians are shown welcoming their “lords” with great enthusiasm.
India – a Muddle
Even today, India is referred to as the land of mystics and spirituality. This mysticism catches the fascination of the west. Mrs. Moore and Adela are deeply interested in Indian philosophy. Mrs. Moore describes India as a puzzle while solving which one explores oneself. Adela who enters the Marabar cave- a symbol of a muddle – alone, ends up deciphiring her own sexuality. She realizes that she doesn’t love Ronny.
The Famous Hot Weather
The sun is a repeatedly occurring motif in the movie. It is not just an aspect very peculiar to the Indian climate and very different from the British climate, but it also comes across as a source of physiological and psychological discomfort to the main characters in the story- Mrs. Moore and Adela. The sun’s heat made Mrs. Moore stay back from going to the higher cave. The hot sun seems to have had a bearing on the psychological state of Adela that heightened her confusion, first at the abandoned temple while she was cycling and then at the Marabar caves.
Exposing the Imperialist Policy
It becomes very much evident that the whole colonial enterprise of civilizing India is a sham in the “Bridge Party” where the Britishers are least interested in mingling with the Indians. In fact, Mrs. Moore and Adela come to witness the dark but real face of colonization. Ronny who has become a real “Sahib” explains how he cannot sacrifice his career for the sake of Indians and their well-being. This highlights the fact that British officers saw their career advancement and betterment of Indians at conflict with each other- the two banks of a river that can never meet. Adela is highly disappointed. She cancels her plan to marry Ronny.
A Stereotypical Indian Man
Dr. Aziz though a doctor is shown as a little foolish who is servile and is ready to do anything to please the British. This image is a typical representation of a native man in a colonized space. He is easily excited by Fielding’s invitation. He in fact gives his only back collar stud to Fielding without caring for himself. This incident foreshadows how Dr. Aziz may get into deeper trouble out of his gullibility and willingness to help Britishers. The stereotypical Indian standards of feminine beauty are established through him. He is shown to be obsessed with fuller breasts.
He wants to please the Britishers at any cost and doesn’t think twice before inviting them on an extravagant picnic to Marabar Caves. He is ashamed of his humble house. He apologizes on behalf of his friend, Ali who directly asks questions regarding British imperialism in India to Fielding. He wishes to project an image of himself in accordance to British standards.
Dr. Aziz reiterates the lack of understanding of the orient to let go of the urge to continue one’s legacy through one’s bloodline. He emphasizes the difference between the eastern and the western ways of thinking.
The “Unbritish” Rule of the British in India
In the beginning, the City Magistrate, Ronny Heaslop is seen pronouncing judgment against an accused Indian without even listening to his plea. The judgment is purely based on the “evidences” presented by the prosecution. Hence, this one-sided judgment which was very much against the laws prevalent in England shows how the justice delivery mechanism depended on the colour of the accused.
Later on, during the trial of Dr. Aziz, all efforts are made by superintendent McBryde to defame Dr. Aziz by assassinating his moral character. Fielding is not allowed to meet Adela. Dr. Aziz is not granted bail by the magistrate, Heaslop who is also the fiancé of Adela. All attempts are made to prove guilt of doctor whose only fault is his colour. The prosecution’s arguments rest on racial prejudices. The skin colour of Dr. Aziz colours the lens of the judgment of the British.
Das, who is much older and experienced than Ronny Heaslop, is his deputy; implying that the natives were always kept subordinate to the colonisers irrespective of their qualifications.
Fielding who supports the innocent Dr. Aziz is met by stern opposition from his British friends. Mr. Turton clearly warns him in front of the whole gathering not to support the “enemy”. Fielding quits the membership of the club and vows to leave the country if Dr. Aziz is found guilty.
When Adela realizes her mistake and mends it by declaring Dr. Aziz innocent, she is outcasted by the Britishers. The Britishers can not accept an accused native celebrating his rightful victory. Dr. Aziz’s win was a blot on their arrogance. She is abandoned by her fiancé and acquaintances, except for Fielding, who values the humanist aspect in everyone, regardless of one’s colour.
Whitewashing in the Film
Whitewashing is a casting practice in the film industry of the United States in which white actors are cast in historically non-white character roles. The film industry has a history of frequently casting white actors for roles about non-white characters. By downplaying the roles that such figures have had in cultural events, the practice is seen as a form of censorship analogous to the whitewashing of criticism. In this movie as well, actor Alec Guinness plays the Indian character Professor Godbole. Not just Indians, but Asians, Native Americans, and African- Americans have faced the brunt of whitewashing in many movies.
A Passage to India is a movie that exposes the true face of British colonial conquest in India. It reveals to the audience a stereotypical view of the east by the west that is tainted with prejudices against the natives. The discrepancy between the said motives of colonization and the actions of the colonizers tells that welfare of the masses was actually in contrary to their economic interests. The way, the whole colonial enterprise operated was by imposing their values and ideals as the standards onto the natives and rejecting the latter’s claim on their own resources.
The process of othering ensured that the colonizers maintained their domination over the “other” i.e. the colonized. The other was viewed as devoid of any civil values. If any of them exhibited any such good quality, that would be attributed to English civilization. Therefore, Dr. Aziz tells Fielding if he forgoes twenty thousand rupees claimed from Adela, his act would be termed like that of an “English gentleman”; implying he would never be appreciated for his “Indian attributes”.
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