Heat and Dust
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A persistent clash of cultures lies at the heart of Heat and Dust, the Merchant/Ivory team's most acclaimed drama prior to 1985's A Room with a View. The celebrated trio of director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant, and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala were perfectly suited to this time-skipping story of thwarted romance, based on Jhabvala's novel, in which the colonial British find themselves perpetually at odds with the vibrant rhythms of India. In this most sensual of environments, two related British women, separated by six decades, discover that their independent spirits are not entirely welcomed within the confines of colonial etiquette. Olivia (Greta Scacchi) defies her stringent husband in the 1920s, while her great-niece Anne (Julie Christie) discovers, upon getting pregnant by an Indian local in the early '80s, that she and Olivia have more than a little in common. Jhabvala's feminism is subtle but forcefully dramatized, and under Ivory's sensitive direction, this tale of two women is a defiantly resonant tribute to love wherever one may find it. --Jeff Shannon
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I was very disappointed, annoyed, as several of us had read the excellent book and we gathered together to see it and no film, just the message.
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One story is that of Olivia (Greta Scacchi), the young and beautiful wife of Douglas Rivers (Christopher Casenove), a minor district official in colonial India. The film tells of her arrival in India, newly wed and in love with her husband, her subsequent boredom with the staid, British Colonial community, and her blossoming infatuation with the Nawab (Shashi Kapoor), a very handsome and charming, local Indian prince. It is her romance with the Nawab that is to result in a life changing action, one that would forever cause a permanent rift with Douglas, changing her life forever.
The second story is that of Anne (Julie Christie), a beautiful and independent woman, a descendant of Olivia's sister. Nearly sixty years after Olivia's transgression, fascinated by the story of the deceased Olivia, Anne goes to India, visiting those locations where Olivia had lived and those which would have been a part of her existence at the time. As did Olivia, she falls under India's spell. As did Olivia, she, too, has an Anglo-Indian love affair. Hers is with her landlord, Inder Lal (Zakir Hussain). Anne's life essentially picks up where the thread of Olivia's life left off, giving the viewer a powerful sense of de-ja vu and a suggestion of reincarnation.
This film is a beguiling story of two women from two different generations who come under the spell of India. It is is evocative of British colonial India, as well as of India of the early nineteen eighties. During both eras, Anglo-Indian relations are pivotal to the budding romances and the film is evocative of the rythyms of Indian life in all its richness and tumultuousness, as well as its lingering poverty and superstitions. Redolent of a time gone by, it is also an interesting dichotomy of the good and bad in both cultures, Anglo and Indian, and the influence that both cultures have on these two women, who are so different, yet so alike.
Julie Christie is perfect as the thoroughly modern, beautiful, free thinking, young woman who retraces her ancestor's footsteps. Greta Scacchi, in her introductory film role, is luminous as the lovely Olivia, a woman who did not let prejudice and narrow mindedness blind her to the charms of India, its people and its culture. Shashi Kapoor is perfectly cast as the handsome Indian Prince, whose veneer of culture and sophistication belies an injured pride, chafing under British colonialism. While the role of Inder Lal is well played by Zakir Hussain, there does not appear to be much chemistry between him and Julie Christie, in contrast to the smoldering chemistry there is between Scacchi and Kapoor. The seeming lack of chmistry btween Hussain and Christie is the one weakness in this film.
The film, one of the earlier Merchant Ivory productions, is beautifully shot. Gorgeous period costumes contribute to the sense of a time gone by. While the story bounces along between the past and the present, it is effectively done, as one sees the transformation of the past to its present. This is a film that will appeal to those who love period dramas, as well as those who simply love a good, entertaining story. Unfortunately, it is no longer available in video. It is, however, deserving of having its print transfered to DVD, as it is a film well worth having in one's collection.
Acting greats Greta Scacchi (here an ingenue) and Julie Christie (then a seasoned actress) play two women related by blood whose stories are paralled though sixty years apart. Aunt Olivia (Scacchi),a 1920's British Newlywed and her very Stayed British husband (Christopher Casanove) arrive in India at the sundown of British Colonial Rule. Civil uprising is already brewing. Gandhi is a new force on the scene. Hindi and Muslim are vying for power as British Imperialism is soon to come to an end. With this as the historical backdrop, Olivia is a young woman who finds herself willing to snub all convention and risk a scandalous affair with a Prince (or Nawab, played by Shashi Kapoor).The parallel story takes place in 1982 with grandniece Anne (Christie) fascinated in tracing Olivia's steps based on Olivia's kept correspondence by Anne's grandmother. Anne also dicovers in herself the same "wildness" that her Aunt had, and all of this is fueled by the crazy "heat and dust" that casts it's mystical and magical spell on those it touches(or so all of the men say is the problem affecting these "silly creatures"-women)This film is not without some very tongue-in-cheek wit and humour. The Nawab's mother for instance is a stitch!
The film's subplots also include historically accurate portrayals of the women of both the old and the new India. They are also caught in the web of mysogyny and are forced to survive any way they can.
One expects lush interpretation,gorgeous costumes and great set design from Merchant Ivory. You get it all here and then some. This film is beautiful and first rate in all respects. Unfortunately, some will dismiss this film as a "chick flick" or simply a "period piece" (terms that are demeaning).Those with love of history and social issues will benefit and be enormously instructed and entertained.
Coupled with the films GANDHI and A PASSAGE TO INDIA as well as the Deepa Mehta trilogy EARTH, FIRE and WATER, HEAT AND DUST serves to complete a well balanced and indepth look at British Occupation in India and the plight of women. Another Merchant Ivory Productions that also highlight womens issues is THE BOSTONIANS.