‘Darjeeling Limited’- a caricatured view of India

April 27th, 2008 - 3:43 pm ICT by admin  

By Subhash K. Jha
Film: “Darjeeling Limited”; Cast: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Irrfan Khan; Director: Wes Anderson; Ratings: * Maybe this one didn’t mean to insult our intelligence. But if you are an Indian, familiar with India’s topography, culture and sexual mores, you are bound to be deeply offended by the way director Wes Anderson thrusts his Westerner’s wacky perceptions of the mythic Indian heat and dust in a perverse and peculiar passage to India undertaken by three estranged brothers ‘finding themselves’ and their brotherly brotherhood.

The mood of narration often borders on the burlesque. No one laughs. But you know that the writers see a secret joke in our hectic hinterland. And sure enough, the Indian characters barring Irrfan Khan, who in his brief grief role of a bereaved father brings an unscheduled dignity to Anderson’s jaundiced view of India, are treated as coloured caricatures.

The train that takes the trio of brothers through the ‘real’ India is teeming and steaming with turbaned Sardarjis. Obviously to the Western eye no Indian is complete without headgear.

The orderlies in their colour-co-ordinated turban and other archaic headgear — when was the last time you saw a man in a turban on a train chugging from some undefined Indian hill station to an equally indeterminate sand swept Rajasthani terrain? — look like they’ve seen ‘waiter’ days.

Welcome to an India still ruled by the gora log (Britons).

Anderson’s Brothers Grim - played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman - are caricatures. Each one defines a certain craving for life. Though the only brother who is actually able to define that craving with any semblance of clarity is Schwartzman who gets into the locomotive loo with the chief stewardess (played by one Amara Karan) for a bit of a bumpy ride beyond the train’s chug chug.

What do these guys want?

It’s not just the characters who are confused by their cultural displacement, albeit temporary. The topography seems sinfully disoriented. The ‘airport’ at the end, with a temple attached to it, looks like a bustling shopping mall and the protagonists, to the end, look like they’ve seen ‘batter’ days.

The joke, if you must know, is on the film and its trio of laconic protagonists whose humourless voyage takes them through the most superficial tourist areas of the Oriental experience you’ve ever encountered since Peter Sellers went to that periodic party.

The train journey that occupies a central attraction in the narration is undertaken in a spirit of incredulity rather than exploration. The natives look like brown-crusted legacies of E.M. Foster’s view of colonial India done in a spirit that M.M. Kaye would’ve probably called “The Farce Pavilion”.

See “Darjeeling Limited” only to find out what the average Western filmmaker still thinks of India. And this one is very average.

Yes, there’s even a snake, though no charmers around.

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