The Deceivers (1988)




Director:   Nicholas Meyer.

Starring:   Pierce Brosnan (William Savage), Saeed Jaffrey (Hussein), Shashi Kapoor (Chandra Singh), Helena Mitchell (Sarah Wilson/Sarah Savage), Keith Michell (Col. Wilson), David Robb (George Anglesmith),  Tariq Yunus (Feringea). 

Country:  British-Indian film.

British officer Captain Savage (Pierce Brosnan) going underground to uncover the murderous activities of the  murderous Thuggee cult.



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

"This is the story of a secret society of murderers and of the man who exposed their crimes.  It is based on fact."    A British army officer with blonde hair named Lt. Maunsell travels with two native soldiers through parts of India.  They set up camp for the night.  The officer hears some noise and wakes up.  He grabs his pistol and goes out to see what is going on.  He finds one of his native soldiers dead.  He walks around a little more and sees the other soldier dead.  He still hears noise and keeps looking around.  All of a sudden he is hit from behind and killed. 

A man blows a horn.  Lt. Anglesmith shouts that he doesn't see anything.  The other hunters sit atop their elephants.  They are all on a tiger hut.  Captain Devril sees the tiger ands shoots too early.  He only wounds the tiger and makes the beast even more dangerous.  Captain Savage and Anglesmith go out looking for the wounded animal.  The tiger jumps out at them and Savage kills it.

There is a big military ball.  Miss Sarah Wilson is going to be marrying Captain Savage soon.  Anglesmith dances with her.  The base commander tells his future son-in-law that he must take care of the company.  He has not been collecting enough taxes.  And what about having some mercy for the poorer of the citizens? asks Savage, but then catches himself.  He remembers the motto of the army here:  Do nothing.  Have nothing done.  And let no one do anything. 

Sarahh weds William.  They go on a honeymoon.  Unknowingly, they pass by the place where the three soldiers were killed.  Savage is in control of the Madhya district by the Seonath River.  There are some 35 villages in the district.  He tells Sarah that when he first started, the district was really a wild place.  He looks across the river and tells Sarah that Chandra Singh, a raja, lives on the other side.  Sarah and William go with a lot of other people on the small raft that carries them to the other side of the river.  

On the other side her husband introduces Sarah to Thakur-ji.  Sarah notices a woman with a very sad look on her face.  Thakur-ji explains the she is the wife of the weaver Gopal and she will become suttee.  That means she will burn herself alive to accompany her husband to the afterlife.  Gopal has been gone for a year and his wife has had the same dream three times.  That is proof enough for the people to approve of the wife becoming suttee.  Sarah asks what if her husband is still alive?   The wife will still be dead.  Sarah says:  "It's barbaric."

Thakur-ji says that Gopal was a tall, slender man, something like Captain Savage.  Sarah and Thakur-ji tell Savage that he should dress as Gopal and put in a long-distance appearance before Gopal's wife.  Savage rejects the idea because he doesn't believe the plan will work.  Sarah tells him that he has to do it.  So they dress up Savage as Gopal.  He sets off to make his long-distance appearance.  And sure enough the wife sees him and shouts:  "Gopal!  Gopal!"  Savage quickly runs away. 

As Savage travels through the forest he comes upon some men.  One man calls another Ali and tells Ali that his brother comes too late.  The men in the group set up camp for the night.  And at night the group is attacked by the Thuggees.  Savage runs for his live as he is spotted by the killers.  He falls and remains still and the Thuggees pass by him.   When they are gone he gets up and makes his way over to tell Thakur-ji:  "Murder!"  In the morning Thakur-ji and Savage go over the ground where once the camp stood.  They can't seem to find any evidence that there was a camp here at all.  They dig over the area and come across a human skull.  Then they find the relatively fresh body of the rajput.  Investigating more, Savages says:  "There all here!"   With the help of natives, they dig up all the bodies.  The final count is greater than 68 victims.  Savage describes the area as a dumping ground for the bodies of the victims of Thuggee crimes.   The victim were killed in ritual killings.  It's not the decoit bandits because the decoit have never done something like this.  Savage digs up a British officer with blonde hair.  He realizes that the soldier is none other than his friend Lt. Maunsell. 

Savage has the residents from various villages rounded up so he can tell them something.  He says that the villagers must know something.  Some of the villagers may even be the murderers.  Just then they see some decoit bandits just over the border of Madhya.  Despite the fact that the men are no longer in Madhya territory, Savage grabs a small group of men and goes after the bandits.  One of these bandits is named Hussein.  He tells Savage that he is a jewel carrier, which explains why he carries so many beautiful gems with him. 

Savage takes the men into his district.  He asks Hussein who is this fellow Ali?  No real answer.  Savage accuses Hussein and the bandits of having murdered Lt. Maunsell and two native soldiers.  He tells the suspect that they will hang him.  He becomes very impatient with Hussein and starts strangling him.  Hussein is able to get out the words:  "She'll kill me!"  Who will kill you?  Hussein says:  the goddess Kali.  Savage says:  "If you do not tell me, I will kill you."  Hussein says:  "We should not have killed the sahib."  He goes on to say that he and the others are Thuggees (that is, deceivers).  He says it is a group that has been murdering travelers for centuries.  And they are all over India.  Hussein promises to give Savage names and locations. 

Sarah's father is furious with his son-in-law.  Savage has 32 people in jail many without charges.  The commander says that Savage cannot forget the laws.  No one is allowed to go outside the law.  Therefore, he is relieving Savage.  He says:  "I'm sorry."  In a doubting voice, Sarah asks her father:  "Are you father?"  Savage goes to Hussein and tells him that he is going to release him.  Hussein repeats that Kali will kill him.  Savage says that his God protects him against Kali.  And his God will also protect Hussein. 

Savage says that he must become Gopal again.  He will go on the road and he will travel as one of them.  His wife is worried about him.  Hussein tells him that the path is dangerous, but they will join Feringeea's party at Jalpura.  They will be grave diggers.  Hussein says that Savage must learn the signs of the Thufgees.  He also says that Kali is not evil.  In fact, to serve her is ecstasy.  Furthermore, the Thuggees always kill with the rumal.  The captain tells Hussein to show him.  Hussein takes off what looks like a large scarf wound up with a knot in it midway.  He places it around Gopal's neck and starts choking him.  Gopal feels how effective the device is and gets Hussein to relax his grip on the rumal.  Hussein says that this situation is so dangerous that:  "We're both dead already."

Gopal and Hussein reach Jalpura.  Gopal meets Feringeea and his adopted son Hira Lal.  Gopal learns that it was the bandit Piroo who killed the British officer.  At a meeting the leader suddenly says:  "There is an approver here.  One of you has betrayed us."  Gopal and Hussein are made extremely worried, but the approver is neither of them, but another man sitting on the left side of Gopal.  The leader strangles the man to death with a ramal. 

The thugs are going to go after another another group of travelers that have lots of gold.  The bad guys ask to join the caravan, because this will give them better protection.  Soon Gopal, Hussein and another thug come running past the travelers.  They reach their destination and start digging.  Hussein tells the men to hurry up because they only have two hours left.  Gopal wants to do something to save the caravan from the thugs, but Hussein tells him that there is nothing he can do to save the travelers. 

At camp for the night, to distract the travelers, Hira Lal dances for the men.  This gives the thugs time to get in place for their attack.  The attack begins and the travelers are being killed.  Gopal has to help in the killing of one of the travelers, so he holds the man's feet together while he is strangled.  The Thuggers then take the gold and other items.  Piroo attempts to strangle Gopal, but Hussein intervenes.  Later Hussein tells Gopal that he has to be more careful. 

Hussein has told Gopal not to eat the gur that the thugs take in the Kali ceremony.  It will make him susceptible to the spirit of Kali.  But Gopal eats the gur anyway.  In the gur is a hallucinogenic substance that lowers Gopal's inhibitory center in his brain.  He becomes more of a killer than just a man working for the British army. 

Manik Wal tells Gopal's group that they must pay him to cross their domain. The group will stay in this district until the feast of Devali, a week from now. 

The thugs head for Parsola where they will sell jewels to bankers.  Hussein has noticed the change in personality of Gopal and mentions this to him.  Gopal says:  "I won't kill.  Not for Kali."  In Parsola Savage as Gopal runs into a man who asks him directions.  Savage asks the man is name and the fellow says he is Gopal.  Savage immediately stiffens up.  The real Gopal the weaver is alive. And he says that he can hardly wait to see his wife.  Savage follows the real Gopal into the stables.  There he kills Gopal with the ramal.  Hussein comes in and is shocked to find the dead man.  Savage has to tell him:  "I had to kill him.  He was Gopal."  Hussein tells Savage that they have to hide the body.  Savage is still shaking somewhat over the incident. 

Anglesmith goes to see Sarah Savage.  He wants to know where is William, her husband?  Sarah tells him her husband went to Guiarat.  Anglesmith tells her that her father is very upset with the captain and he has ordered him back to Sagthali.  The lieutenant makes Sarah feel a bit uncomfortable.  After he leaves, she sees a big Indian fellow named Sher Dil in the shadows.  She goes over to him and notices he has in his hand a huge knife.  He tells her that it is his duty to protect Sahib's property (including Sarah Savage) and was ready to go into action if the lieutenant got out of hand. 

Feringeea talks with Gopal.  He says that he killed the father of Hira Lal and then took the boy with him.  Prostitutes are brought in to some of the thugs and an Indian woman starts flirting with Gopal.  She asks him if they have met before, but Gopal says no.  She takes Gopal into another room. 

Anglesmith comes sniffing around Sarah again. 

Gopal has sex (not shown) with the prostitute.  She says to him:  "Now I am yours and you are mine."  Gopal starts seeing the faces of three women:  the prostitute, Gopal's wife and Sarah Savage.  He starts becoming crazed again and throws a ramal around the neck of the prostitute.  In the morning he realizes that the prostitute stole everything he had. 

Feringeea says to Gopal that Piroo has never trusted the weaver.  He adds that Hussein fled during the night, but don't worry, for where can he run?

Sarah goes to see the true Gopal's wife.   She tells Sarah that she has seen her husband in her dreams and he is in great danger.  She also implies that the evil Kali is with him.  Sarah rushes to talk with Thakur-ji.  She tells him the whole story and Thakur-ji tells her that he will find the sahib. 

At camp one night, Gopal and Hussein just relax around the fire with some Thuggees.  All of a sudden British soldiers pounce on the group.  Lt. Anglesmith announces that the thugs must pay to cross his district.  He doesn't recognize that one of the thugs is actually Captain Savage.  Savage is absolutely astounded that Anglesmith is engaging in criminal activity.  Anglesmith says he wants three of their horses and 500 mohurs.  The thug leader indicates that this is not problem at all, so Anglesmith ups the amount of money to 1,000 mohurs.  He then warns the thugs that no one passes through his district without his knowing it. 

Hussein comes to see Sarah.  He tells her that her husband is in great danger.  They are headed to the jewel market at Parsola.  He tells her that they must get word to her father, the colonel, to send the cavalry to Parsola before her husband's true identity is discovered.  Hussein will go with two men to tell the colonel.  Sarah gives Hussein her ring to show to her father, so that he will believe Hussein.  (Sher Dil is probably the person who secretly listens to their conversation.)

On the road to the colonel, one of the soldiers tells the other two men to halt because his horse has gone lame.  The soldier then shoots the other soldier.  The killer turns out to be a Thuggee. 

In Parsola Thakur-ji brings an approver to Gopal.  The approver is none other than Hussein.  The order is given to strangle Hussein and they want Gopal to do it.  Gopal instead grabs Hira Lal and threatens to kill him if they don't let Hussein go.  Feringeea pleads to his fellow Thuggees to let Hussein go.  Gopal and Hussein get on horses and off they ride.  Hussein is, however, shot off his horse and dies.  Gopal gets away.  The Thuggees start chasing him.

After a long ride, Gopal's horse gives out.  So Gopal dives into a huge reedy, marshy area with very tall plants that help conceal him.  Gopal has to kill some of the Thuggees who find him.  He kills Feringeea. aShortly after this the Thuggees manage to surround Gopal.  Thakur-ji is there. He tells the sahib that he is his friend, so let him kill Captain Savage.

And now the cavalry arrives.  Thakur-ji runs away.  With the Calvary is Sher Dil.  A number of the cavalry are killed, but they prevail.  A British soldier kills Thakur-ji with his sword.  Savage sees Thuggees streaming past him.  He grabs one of the runners and starts to strangle him.  The fellow he is strangling is Hira Lal as he goes into berserker mode.  He finally realizes what he is doing and let's the boy go.  The Thuggees have to run way.  Captain Savage is saved. 

Back at base Savage talks about how there are killing groves the length and breadth of India.  The colonel says that their employer, known just as the company, has agreed to set up an office of Thuggee extermination and the evil cult will be eradicated..  The colonel now makes Savage the superintendent of the base

"It took 20 years to wipe out Thuggee.  Rather than betray the cult over 400 put the hangman's noose around their own necks.  Thuggee had claimed almost 2 million victims."



This is a good action-adventure film, like an Indiana Jones in India.  The hero comes through in the end, but has to go through many close-calls and other dangers.   Pierce Brosnan (a future James Bond) was good as the hero William Savage.  There is a lot of killing, mostly by strangling.  The British soldiers in the film were working for the East India Company, which ruled India for Britain for quite a long time. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


See Gunga Din (1939).


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