Heat and Dust (1983) It’s not Bollywood, but it stars Shashi.


Heat and Dust (1983) is a Merchant Ivory Productions award winning film, with a screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala based upon her novel, Heat and Dust. It was directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant. Ivory performed tanpura for score music with Zakir Hussein‘s sitar. According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications there was “a cycle of film and television productions which emerged during the first half of the 1980s, which seemed to indicate Britain’s growing preoccupation with India, Empire and a particular aspect of British cultural history”. In addition to Heat and Dust, this cycle also included The Jewel in the Crown (1984) and A Passage to India (1984). (wikipedia)

Heat and Dust (1983), could I call that Bollywood?

OK Shashi is right, it isn’t Bollywood, but it’s set in India and stars Shashi Kapoor, so that’s good enough for me. I got it from my local library and it’s as part of The Criterion Collection, which never disappoints. I had read the book by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and then realized that there was a movie, which apparently was a huge hit in Europe, and other parts of the world but wasn’t widely distributed in the US, which is why I wasn’t familiar with it. Here’s a case where I enjoyed the book and movie equally. If you get a chance to see it, be sure and listen to the commentary version to hear interesting things the producer, director and actors recall about the shooting of the film. The DVD booklet described the film as follows:

Heat and Dust was adapted for the screen by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala from her Booker Prize-winning novel, and tells two stories in parallel through the use of splicing and juxtaposing of scenes. Flashbacks, and flash-forwards, which connect the Indian past (in the romantic 19203) and present (the 1970s). In the first story, Olivia (Greta Scacchi), a junior administrator’s wife, has an affair with a local Nawab (Shashi Kapoor) that shocks the British community, and at the end she goes to live alone in a mountain retreat. The second involves her great niece Anne (Julie Christie), who comes to India to research Olivia’s life and on a different level repeats her experience, becoming pregnant by her Indian lover Inder Lal (Zakir Hussain) and traveling finally to the retreat in the mountains where Olivia had ended her days and where she herself hopes to bear a child.

I enjoyed seeing Shashi starring in a movie with his real life wife, Jennifer Kendal. Kendal died in 1984, and this movie was made in 1983, so this was one of her last films.

Kendal had a very Bollywood-esque character who got to say some racist dialogue. She warns the young Olivia to be careful, since she knew a British woman who had been molested by and Indian, “since he’d been ironing her underwear, after all. And they eat all that spicy food,” said Mrs. Saunders. She goes on to say:

Now that’s very Bollywood, isn’t it? To have a racist Britisher saying outlandish and offensive things. Another Bollywood moment was when I saw this actress, and knew I’d seen her before but couldn’t place it. She was marvelous and really captured my attention, even though her part was small. Do you recognize this woman? Not Julie Christie, but the woman with the bindi?

It’s a young Ratna Pathak, (wife of Naseeruddin Shah) who I last saw in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, playing Jai’s (Imran Khan) mother. And the final Bollywood ingredient to Heat and Dust was the inclusion of hijra.

Well Shashi,

I’ll tell you what a hijra is,

“In the culture of the Indian subcontinent, a hijra (Hindi: हिजड़ा, Urdu: حجڑا) is usually considered a member of “the third sex” — neither man nor woman. Most are physically male or intersex, but some are female. Hijras usually refer to themselves linguistically as female, and usually dress as women. Although they are usually referred to in English as “eunuchs”, relatively few have any genital modifications.” (wikipedia)

Watch the trailer and look at what Siskel & Ebert had to say here.

Read Ashmita‘s review of the book here.

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17 thoughts on “Heat and Dust (1983) It’s not Bollywood, but it stars Shashi.

  1. Oh, great that you reviewed this film, Sita-ji. I’m currently reading Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, although I haven’t got to Heat and Dust yet. Her other work is definitely worth a look. I have just finished A Stronger Climate, which is great about post-independence India, and shows us all sorts of characters we dont’ normally see in the movies – ones I could relate to more easily. Also worth a look is East into Upper East, although the New York stories are not nearly so well drawn. I can see why she is a Booker-calibre novelist, and I now look forward to both the film and book of Heat and Dust.

  2. Namaste Beth!
    Shashi didn’t require a conversion for me. :) He plays quite a creepy nawab here, sort of a secret dacoit and a bit of a sociopath as well as a bit of a narcissistic if you use the following definition “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.” Quite charming and creepy all at once, like how those types are. He reminds me a bit of the Shashi character in Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978). I heart Shashi! Thanks for your visit. :)

    Joss, Salam!
    I will look forward to reading “A Stronger Climate,” on your recommendation. Yes both the book and movie versions of Heat and Dust were excellent! She really is able to boil down things and through powerful examples and finer nuances paint quite elaborately detailed characters. I suppose that’s why she is a Booker-caliber novelist as you mention.

  3. I LOVE this movie- seriously amazing- I am so glad you reviewed this :).
    And as much as I didnt like the characters they played, Shashi and Zakir are both utterly amazing here :)

  4. I saw this one years ago and dont remember the dialogues Jennifer mouths here – they sound hilarious! One hilarious dialogue I do remember – the Nawab’s mom tells someone about English people that “they clean it with paper” (she was referring to toilet paper which is still never used in India as people use water and hands) in tones of extreme disgust.

    I remember feeling rather meh about the movie though, especially the modern arc.

  5. shweta-ji,
    You said it! Shashi and Zakir both played the unlikable characters very well. What’s most memorable and the clincher for establishing the nawab as a real jerk for me was the moment Olivia (Greta Scacchi) announces her pregnancy and how he reacts. It was really awful how he is all excited about the reaction he thinks the Brits will have at him having the affair with Olivia and her being pregnant and he was drunk with power. Greta Scacchi played that scene so well, showing that she truly just then understood exactly the type of person the nawab was, and in a moment realizes she was merely a puppet, a pawn in his game…her expression said it all. And Zakir was great too, but equally creepy, creeping around on his lovely wife. In the version of the disc with the commentary the other actors remark on how Zakir appeared chunky in this film and how he’s so slim now, with all his vegetarian, healthy California diet, of something to that effect. Thanks for your comments!

    Namaste bollyviewer,
    Thanks for pointing that out about the begum’s dialogue. One aspect of the film I didn’t like was that the Hindi was NOT translated, so when a scene appeared in Hindi, it simply said “speaks Hindi” in the subtitling. Thanks for that translation which I’d missed. :) One couldn’t help to understand that the begum, excellently played by Madhur Jaffrey, was an elitist, and perhaps over involved in managing her son’s life, right? :) I didn’t know this about Jaffrey:”has also found fame as a food writer, introducing the Western world to the many cuisines of India.” (wikipedia) She was excellent too.

    Nicki-ji
    Thanks for reading and visiting and representin’ my Hmong people worldwide. Holla! :D

  6. Pingback: Shashi Kapoor in The Householder (1963). « Bollywood Food Club

    • ashmita-ji,
      Thanks for stopping in to comment! I will link your review back up into the post. The book effectively goes back an forth between Anne and Olivia’s stories and it’s an interesting outsider’s perspective on India. I was disappointed in the moral shortcomings of Anne’s character not respecting Lal’s marriage vows and how she objectified him and India. I particularly enjoyed Shashi’s performance in the film, which really captured the nawab’s maniacal nature, even more for me than it did in the book. I enjoy most of the Merchant Ivory productions for telling stories of cultures outside of India experiencing India. I appreciate your visit friend! :)

  7. Hi interesting blog, sita-ji. Searched up heat and dust, the film and found your blog. I just finished the book. Couldnt picture the nawab as handsome as Shashi but the actress’ choice was perfect as Olivia. I havent seen most of the merchant-iv films mainly because it is not a bollywood film but also it is not a mainstream english film either so the english channels dont show it. I have just begun to explore my love for films thanks to many years of endless train travels and work, so really hope to catch up with the good movies now that motherhood is giving me the break.
    There’s a blog you might like (not mine,) but a fantastic journo u might already know perhaps, http://jaiarjun.blogspot.com/. I am planning to spend the afternoon exploring your blog. Thnx Ashwini.

    • ashwini prashant-ji,
      Thanks for stopping in to comment, and sorry for my late response to your comment. First off I’d like to say I love the font on your blog, very nice! I’ll be checking it out more soon. Also, thanks for the http://jaiarjun.blogspot.com/ too. I enjoyed the book, but in the film, I thought Shashi brought some nuances to the nawab (as evil!) that I didn’t pick up in the book. He did a perfect job of playing a maniacal, but vulnerable character didn’t he? Normally I prefer a book, but in this case, I think I preferred the film, it seemed richer. Keep me posted on your film watching and thanks again for visiting. :)

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