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A PASSAGE TO INDIA. Directed and written by David Lean; produced by John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin for Columbia. Starring Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee and James Fox. Rated PG.


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British moviemakers, it would seem, are obsessed with India. But if the results of their obsessions are movies as fine as 1982's Gandhi and A Passage to India, no one should mind.

Passage is in Gandhi 's class. It's beautifully made and extremely well-acted. (And almost as long.) But it's not the easiest movie in the world to understand, or even to describe.

The story is rather thin, and hardly begins to tell what the movie is really like. Adela (Davis) goes to India (in 1928) to visit Ronny (Nigel Havers), who is a magistrate, and whom she might want to marry. Both she and Ronny's mother, who travels with her, are excited about the trip for other than the obvious personal reasons. They want to find the "real" India.

Adela ends up getting more experience than she bargained for. She meets some supposed representatives of this "real" India, the nervous Dr. Aziz (Banerjee) and the enigmatic Professor Godbole (Alec Guinness). And she witnesses at very close hand the vast gulf between the British and Indian cultures. But the reality she sought remains very much in question at the movie's end.

From the first scene of the movie, A Passage to India asks the audience to look beyond its surface for deeper meanings. There is certainly plenty of interesting material on that surface. All the main characters are fascinating. The tensions between the cultures provide another dimension to every scene, continually threatening to flare into the open. And visually, each frame is beautiful (as one would expect from the director of Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago).

But the unspoken meanings and search for connections beckon. Take Adela's last name, for example, which is "Quested." Not much doubt that this lady is looking for something. The echo in the caves, the site of Aziz' and Adela's fateful outing, isn't so obvious. It says something different to everyone; to some, it says nothing at all.

Not all viewers enjoy movies this convoluted. Those who like straightforward stories would probably be bored by A Passage to India. Its story won't support the movie's length by itself.

I am actually somewhat puzzled by how, at the end of a long day, I didn't get the least bit tired sitting for almost three hours watching this very strange movie. The acting certainly has something to do with it. Davis and Banerjee are outstanding, creating ambiguous, subtle characters who are both real and almost mythical at the same time.

But A Passage to India is more than a sum of its parts. There is something mystical about it, as if the allure the east has always held for us westerners somehow leaked from the scenery into the theater, hypnotizing me. I can't recommend it for everyone, but if you don't mind working a bit at your movies, A Passage to India will reward the effort.

January 30, 1985

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