A Passage to India (1984)



Director:  David Lean.

Starring:   Judy Davis (Adela), Victor Banerjee (Aziz), Peggy Ashcroft (Mrs. Moore), James Fox (Fielding), Alec Guinness (Godbole), Nigel Havers (Ronnie), Richard Wilson (Turton), Antonia Pemberton (Mrs. Turton), Michael Culver (McBryde), Art Malik (Ali), Saeed Jaffrey (Hamidullah), Clive Swift (Major Callendar), Ann Firbank (Mrs. Callendar), Roshan Seth (Amritrao), Sandra Hotz (Stella Fielding).

Country:   British film

Oscar:      Best Supporting Actress, Peggy Ashcroft.  

Based on an E. M. Forster novel.  


This is the story of British imperialism and racism. Not only do the British control India, but they go further and degrade the people with their racism. British colonialism is not just imperialism; it's racist imperialism.

That racism clearly comes out in the virtual apartheid system the Brits in India have set up to keep the whites away from the Indians. The movie is not preachy about racism, but racism is constantly in the atmosphere.

The story is about a young woman, Adela, who comes to visit the son of her traveling companion, Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft). She is not sure whether she loves Ronny or not. Adela and Mrs. Moore, totally ignorant of the racist system set up in India, want to see India and the Indians to learn more about the country and its people. This already upsets some of the whites, including Ronnie. They don't say anything, but they look perplexed and bothered, indicating that something is wrong.

The only white person who treats the Indians more as equals is Mr. Fielding, who teaches school. He actually visits Dr. Azziz in his house and he and his friends are pleased, but shocked and perplexed, at Mr. Fielding's treating them as equals. One of Azizz's friends asks the question: "What right does Britain have in being here in India?"

Mrs. More accidentally bumps into the Indian Dr. Azziz in the mosque and impresses Mrs. More with his politeness. So when Mrs. More and Adela still insist on meeting and Indian, Dr. Azziz is the one. The two meet. Pleased at how well Mrs. More and Adela treat him, Dr. Azziz tries to impress them by saying they could visit his house. He then gets himself in a real social jam when they accept the invitation. (They obviously do not know the racist system set in place and are not following the rules.) So in order to get himself out of this situation, he instead substitutes the idea of going on a picnic to visit the Malabar Caves in the nearby Malabar Hills.

While at the Malabar Hills, Mrs. More has a panic attack due to her claustrophobia. So Adela and Dr. Azziz go on without her to the upper level caves. While Dr. Azziz goes to take a cigarette break, Adela unwisely goes into one of the many cave openings. There she seems also to have had a panic attack and in her fear she frantically runs down the hills, getting all cut-up on the vegetation and rocks in the process. Mrs. More and the late arriving Mr. Fielding are perplexed at what had happened in the caves.

Adela is driven home by Mrs. Calendar and at the latter's home, she and her husband jump to what they think is the obvious conclusion -- Dr. Azziz tied to rape her. When Dr. Azziz and Mr. Fielding return from the picnic, they are both shocked when Dr. Azziz is arrested for rape. The trial becomes a cause celebre, as Dr. Azziz gets the massive support of the native population.


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1829 --  Law prohibiting suttee

1835   --  Thomas Babington Macaulay's "Minute on Education;" English made official language

1839-1842 --  First Anglo-Afghan War to counteract growing Russian influence in Afghanistan.

1842  --  the British East India Company decided it was not profitable to occupy Afghanistan and so, after wiping out virtually all Afghan resistance in Kabul, ended the First Anglo-Afghan War. 

1843  --  Conquest of Sind by British

1845  --  Two Anglo-Sikh wars (-49)

1849   --  Brits conquer the Punjab

1853   --  First railroad and telegraph lines opened

1856 --  Annexation of Oudh by the company

1857   --  Sepoy Mutiny (or Sepoy Rebellion), also known as the Great Uprising; marked the formal end of the Mughal Empire.

1862  --  Indian Penal Code introduced; India High Courts Act.

by 1865  --  Russia formally annexed Tashkent. 

1868  --  the Russians annexed Samarkand. 

1868  --  a peace treaty with Afghan Amir Muzaffar al-Din, the ruler of Bukhara, virtually stripped him of his independence. Russia now controlled the area as far as the northern bank of the Amu Darya.  This worried the British a great deal. 

1868  --  Afghani  leader Sher Ali established control in Kabul, but he found British support to be little more than a supply of arms and funds. This caused a great deal of tension between Ali and the British and relations continuously deteriorated. 

1869  --  Suez Canal opened

1872  --  Britain signed an agreement with the Russians saying it would respect the northern boundaries of Afghanistan and to view the territories of the Afghan amir as outside their sphere of influence. Furthermore, the British refused to give any assurances to Sher Ali.

1875   --  Arya Samaj founded; Aligarh College founded by Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-98).

1878  --  Sher Ali tried to keep out both a Russian mission to Kabul and a British mission. 

1878 (September)  --  the Afghanis turned back the British at the Khyber Pass; and this began the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

1878-81   --  Second Anglo-Afghan War.  The British sent 40,000 troops in three columns into different points in Afghanistan. 

1879 (February)  --  death of Sher Ali. 

1879 (May)  --  Sher Ali's son and successor, Yaqub Khan, signed the Treaty of Gandamak to prevent a British invasion of the little that was left of unoccupied Afghanistan. 

1879 (October)  --  an Afghan uprising opposed to the Treaty of Gandamak was foiled at Charasia.

1879 (December)  --  an Afghan uprising opposed to the Treaty of Gandamak was foiled at Kabul.  The British garrison at Kabul was annihilated.

1881 (September)  --  the British won a decisive victory at the Battle of Kandahar.  But the British had had enough, and they left.

1885  --  Indian National Congress (Congress) founded.

1892   --  India Councils Act

1905   --  Partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon, viceroy

1906  --  All-India Muslim League (League) founded

1909  --  Morley-Minto Reforms

1911  --  King-emperor (George V) visits India and announces reversal of partition of Bengal; transfer of imperial capital to New Delhi from Calcutta

1916   --  Lucknow Pact between Congress and League

1917   --  British declaration on Indian self-government

1919   --  Massacre at Jallianwallah Bagh, Amritsar; India becomes a member of League of Nations; Third Anglo-Afghan War

1920-22   --  Noncooperation movement under Mahatma Gandhi's leadership of Congress; Khilafat Movement




Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)