Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gunga Din

1939, 112m, Tony Curtis
Borrowing the title from Kipling's notorious immortal poem, and material from  an assortment of his short stories, the movie spins a Hollywood yarn about the thuggee cult. This is a nineteenth century battle movie in which the cult has been transplanted in the NW mountains of the subcontinent (actually it thrived in the plains). We see a regiment of mixed races, comprising infantry, cavalry (elephants included of course), and artillery, advancing on a serpentine route through the Himalayan gorges (actually filmed in California), to the tune of Scottish bagpipes. This is the pageant of history. As someone observes, "The army is not about fighting alone". Soldiering has always been a culture and a cult, if not a faith. It is surrounded by pomp, ceremony, brotherhood and celebration (to mask its essence, killing as a sacred duty). For the most this is a comic strip portrayal of the life in the British army, much in the style of  Beetle Bailey. It portrays army life as  horse play and pranks, and war as a camping adventure, if not a picnic. In fact, the present Indian Army inherits the culture and ethos of its British ancestor. Tony Curtis' here budding comic genius was to blossom fully some twenty years later in Some Like it Hot. It is hard to feel offended by this film in which both races compete in the absurdity of portrayals, with flashes of inspired, or perhaps fortuitous, historical reality. The racial tinges are too remote and anachronistic for indignation.

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