Heat and Dust
"Heat and Dust" tells two love stories, one set in the 1920s, the other set in the present, reiterating E.M. Forster that India would forever be beyond the understanding of Western analytical minds, and that attempts to impose European ways upon it were both futile and ridiculous. The heroine of the first love story is Olivia Rivers (Scacchi), whose independent ways clash with her British husband's starchy values; he demands she stay with the other British wives, share their values and interests, and keep India at arm's length.
Olivia does not. She explores the land, and becomes fascinated by it. Her affair with the local Nawab (Kapoor) - beguiling, attractive, cheerful, sophisticated. and possibly a murderer - leads to her pregnancy, and the whole of British-Indian relationships is shaken.
The second love story involves Olivia's great niece, Anne (Christie). Fascinated by the long-ago scandal, she follows Olivia's footsteps to India, does her own exploring, and has her own affair. In an effective scene; soon after Anne arrives at a decision about her own pregnancy, she visits the isolated cottage where the disgraced Olivia spent her confinement.((As Anne dreamily moves among momentoes of the past, we realize that India and England, the East and the West, aren't the issues here: both women were made social outcasts from both societies in two different periods, simply because of biological facts. East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet -- except possibly in shared sexist double standards.
"Heat and Dust" is wonderful, textured, and seductive, treating both love stories seriously. They are less romances than decisions to dissent. Director Ivory and producer Merchant have spent 20 years making films about the British in India. When the movie ends, it surprises us by being angry, too: that women of every class and every system, women British and Indian, women of the 1920s and of the 1980s, are never in quite the same caste as men.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
British women's rights in India; 1920s; 1980s
English Reviewer's Name:
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