Wednesday, February 13, 2013




David Lean(1908-1991) was an accomplished craftsman  of cinema whose far-reaching historical epics were mere backdrops for the larger-than-life characters that populated his films. He helmed some of the greatest movies ever made by Hollywood. Born in Croydon, London, Lean began in the film industry as a clapperboard boy working his way up to become an editor of news programmes and fictional features. His early directorial successes came about through collaboration with Noel Coward and the pair worked together on four films: In Which We Serve (1942), This Happy Breed (1944), Blithe Spirit (1945) and Brief Encounter (1945). Following excellent adaptations of Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations" (1946) and "Oliver Twist" (1948), Lean went into a bit of a lull that nonetheless saw him make the compelling romantic drama "Summertime" (1955). But what followed was a series of films that cemented his place as one of the greatest directors of all time. After suffering a critical drubbing with his next film, "Ryan's Daughter" (1970), Lean waited 14 years to release his next film, "A Passage to India" (1984), which was a welcome return to the epic landscape .About David Lean, Geoffery Macnab writes this in  Independent ( Issue  dated 29 June  2008) :-

“ When David Lean left London for Paris in the spring of 1955, the film-maker's finances were in a parlous state. The 47-year-old had separated from his wife, the actor Ann Todd (whom he was to divorce two years later), while the taxman was clamouring for payment of £20,000 – an astronomical amount for those days – in unpaid dues.The details of Lean's financial problems are contained in Gene D Phillips's thorough biography, Beyond the Epic, which reveals that while he may have been among the most celebrated film-makers in British film history, in the mid-1950s, at least, Lean certainly wasn't one of the richest. The director of Brief Encounter couldn't even afford to have his teeth fixed and, at one stage, was reduced to pawning his gold cigarette case.

The British film industry wasn't exactly thriving during this period either. The Rank Organisation (Lean's main patron) was in a period of retrenchment; the extravagance and artistic ambition of the 1940s, when Rank had tried to gate-crash the American market with a series of big-budget "prestige" pictures made by the likes of Lean and Powell and Pressburger were long forgotten.At Pinewood Studios, the emphasis was now on Norman Wisdom comedies, Doctor in the House and stiff upper-lipped war movies. Gone were the days when – as Lean enthused of the time he was filming the Dickens adaptations Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948) – he and his collaborators in the Rank stable could "make any subject we wish, with as much money as we think that subject should have spent on it... cast whichever actors we choose and have no interference with the way the film is made". Yet, while his erstwhile colleagues floundered, Lean reinvented himself as the director of widescreen spectacles such as The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965). And so the young man who once used to sit chain-smoking in the refreshment room of Victoria Station, because he didn't want to go home to Croydon after venturing into town to see the latest movie, became a film-maker feted in Hollywood and Britain alike.

It was Lean's genius that he took an international perspective at a time when other British film-makers were becoming increasingly insular. He had the vision and ruthlessness to work on an epic scale. He also had plenty of reason to escape Britain: his acrimonious divorce from Todd may have left him broke, but it gave him as compelling a reason to look further afield as his disenchantment with the British film industry.”

In 1983, we saw  David Lean (1908-1991) in Srinagar looking for locations and shooting sequences for his cinematic adaption of E M Forster’s novel ‘A Passage to India ‘.David Lean had read the novel and seen the play in London in 1960, and, impressed, attempted to purchase the rights at that time, but Forster, who rejected Santha Rama Rau's suggestion to allow Indian film director Satyajit Ray to make a film, said ‘no’. Following Forster's death in 1970, the governing board of fellows of King's College at Cambridge inherited the rights to his books. In March 1981, John Brabourne and his business partner, Richard Goodwin, obtained the rights to make a film adaptation of A Passage to India. The contract stipulated that Santha Rama Rau write the screenplay and it reserved the right to approve the director.Brabourne, an admirer of the film Doctor Zhivago, wanted David Lean to direct the film. Lean was ready to break his 14-year hiatus from filmmaking following mostly negative reviews received for Ryan's Daughter in 1970.

E M Forster began writing A Passage to India during a stay in India from late 1912 to early 1913 (he was drawn there by a young Indian Muslim, Syed Ross Masood, whom he had tutored in Latin), completing it only after he returned to India as secretary to a Maharajah in 1921. The novel was published on 6 June 1924. It differs from Forster's other major works in the overt political content, as opposed to the lighter tone and more subdued political subtext in works such as ‘Howards End and ‘A Room With a View ’. ‘A Passage To India’ deals with the delicate balance between the English and the Indians during the British Raj. It is generally regarded as Forster's best novel, quickly becoming a classic of English literature.

 In Srinagar ,David Lean was seen at Fateh Kadal, Zaina Kadal and also at various locations in and around Srinagar city. We also saw an advertisement appearing in the 'Srinagar Times', a leading Urdu daily published from Srinagar, requesting residents in the downtown area of the city to pull down their rooftop TV antennas to give the old city a 1920 look needed for shooting some sequences. Almost everyone obliged.  David Lean visited some localities saying this :-

“ Salaam! Namaste ! can you bring down that TV antenna for some days to enable me to shoot some sequences for a movie? ”

He was seen shooting on Srinagar- Baramulla road, Fateh Kadal,  or inside Nigeen and Dal lake with Victor Banerjee.  Lean , film director, scriptwriter and a producer  is remembered for his classics like ‘Lawrence of Arabia', 'The bridge on River Kwai 'and 'Dr Zhivago'. "Doctor Zhivago" (1965) was a massive box office success that managed to tell a deeply intense personal romance set against the large scale turbulence of Soviet Russia .

In Kashmir ,we saw him shooting with his wife Sandy who played the role of Stella, actor Alec Guinness who played the role of Prof Godbole, James Fox who played the role of Mr Fielding and Victor Banerjee who played the role of Dr Aziz in the movie. Satyajit Ray had recommended Victor Banerjee for the role of Dr Aziz. The houseboat sequences with Dr Aziz and Mr Fielding were shot inside the  Dal Lake . Victor Banerjee was seen in Churidaar Pyjama and a Sherwani. An old vintage car was also brought to the shooting venues. The movie had some other actors like Peggy Ashcroft, Judy Davis, Roshan Seth, Saeed Jaffrey and Art Malik. The movie was produced by John Brabourne whose father had been a Viceroy in India (who also happened to be son in law of Lord Mountbatten ). The movie was distributed by Columbia Pictures and was finally released in 1984. This was the final film of Lean's career, and the first feature-film he had directed in fourteen years, since Ryan's Daughter in 1970. Receiving universal critical acclaim upon its release with many praising it as Lean's finest since Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage To India received eleven nominations at the Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Lean, and Best Actress for Judy Davis for her portrayal as Adela Quested. Peggy Ashcroft won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal as Mrs Moore, making her, at 77, the oldest actress to win the award, and Maurice Jarre won his third Academy Award for Best Original Score.

I was also informed by a friend in the Tourism Department, Kashmir that he had personally seen John Byrum ( born 1947 ),another giant writer-director from Hollywood ,shooting sequences for his movie ‘The Razor’s Edge’ in Srinagar at that point in time. David Lean and John Byrum had a chance meeting in the dining room of the then Hotel Oberoi Palace in Srinagar. So much was Byrum happy to see David Lean that he called this chance meeting as  ‘meeting Lord Shiva  in Kashmir’ .

   While replying to Mark Tully’s question (for a BBC interview) , “ How much difference is there between Lean's 'Passage To India' and Forster's 'Passage To India'? ”  David Lean has clarified as under:-

“ He's a writer, I'm a filmmaker. I like movies, and I've tried to make a movie that I would like to see. The end is different, certainly, but I think I wouldn't be ashamed for Forster to read the script. I think I stuck with his characters, and on the whole, given the limitations of time, I mean what's one doing? One's doing something in 2 hours, a book that thick, its a sort of sketch of it, and I'm extracting a movie from it. Those who want to read Forster, read the book. Those who want to go to a movie, and don't read, come and see our film.”

                                           ( Sir David lean shooting in Srinagar city 1983 )

                                                                    ( John Byrum  )
 David Lean immersed himself completely in India to resurrect on screen what remains the  best-known novel written about the country by a foreigner. For him, the urge to reach out to the heart of India was perhaps as great as Forster's. Like Forster whose last big creation the novel was, this film was also Lean's last. About David Lean , Peter B  Flint wrote this in ‘ The New York Times ‘ of April 17, 1991:-

 “A tall, trim man with angular features, keen eyes and a booming voice,  David Lean made films with a furious concentration. He called movie making "a terrific thrill, a kick" and said the hardest element of it was ‘finding a story to fall in love with.’ Lean was a meticulous craftsman noted for technical wizardry, subtle manipulation of emotions, superb production values, authenticity and taste. He was one of the very few directors who edited his own films, and he also adapted or co-adapted half a dozen of them.

“History, will you mention us
In your faded scroll?

For the hardship and affliction
We do not seek rewards,
Nor do we want our pictures
In the calendar of years.

Just tell our story simply
To those we shall not see,
Tell those who will replace us -
We fought courageously.”…….(
From a poem of Bulgarian poet  Nikola Vaptsarov )


( Avtar Mota )

Creative Commons LicenseCHINAR SHADE by Autarmota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.
Based on a work at http:\\\.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.