Anne is investigating the life of her grand-aunt Olivia, whose destiny has always been shrouded with scandal. The search leads back to the early 1920s, when Olivia, recently married to Douglas, a civil servant in the colonial administration, comes to live with him in India.
Slowly, Olivia becomes fascinated by India and by the local ruler, a nawab who combines British distinction with Indian pomp and ruthlessness. This fascination is not without risks: the region is being ransacked by a group of sanguinary bandits, and intrigues are opposing the prejudiced British community led by Major Minnies and Dr. Saunders against the nawab. As Anne delves into the history of her grand-aunt, she is led to reconsider her own life.
Heat and Dust is a 1983 romantic drama 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. It stars Greta Scacchi, Shashi Kapoor and Julie Christie.
The plot of Heat and Dust follows two intertwined stories. The first is set in the 1920s and deals with an illicit affair between Olivia, the beautiful young wife of a British colonial official, and an Indian Nawab. The second, set in 1982, deals with Anne, Olivia’s great-niece, who travels to India hoping to find out about her great-aunt’s life, and while there also has an affair with an Indian man.
Heat and Dust forms part of a cycle of film and television productions which emerged during the first half of the 1980s, reflecting Britain’s growing interest in the British Raj. In addition to Heat and Dust, this cycle included Gandhi (1982), The Jewel in the Crown (1984), The Far Pavilions (1984) and A Passage to India (1984).
About the Story
In 1982, an Englishwoman named Ann (Julie Christie) begins an investigation into the fate of her great-aunt Olivia (Greta Scacchi), whose letters and diary she has inherited. She interviews the elderly Harry Hamilton-Paul (Nickolas Grace), who in his youth was Olivia’s close friend when they were both living in India.
Anne’s search brings her to India, where the story of Olivia’s life is told in flashbacks. In 1923, during the British Raj, Olivia, recently married to Douglas Rivers (Christopher Cazenove), a civil servant in the colonial administration, has come to join her husband in Satipur, in central India. Douglas is an attentive husband and the couple seems to be very much in love. When he insists that Olivia spend the summer in Simla to avoid the extreme heat, she refuses in order to remain with him.
However, the conventional narrow society of the English memsahibs bores her. Mrs Saunders (Jennifer Kendal), the morbid wife of the local doctor, warns Olivia that all Indian men are potential rapists. Mrs Crawford (Susan Fleetwood), the Burra Memsahib, is kindly but equally conservative. The racist Doctor Saunders takes an instant dislike to Olivia. While the Anglo-Indian society seems to have little to offer Olivia, she is slowly enthralled by India itself.
The region is being ransacked by a group of sanguinary bandits, and intrigues are opposing the British community led by Major Minnies and Mr. Crawford against the ruler of the neighboring princely state, the Nawab of Khatm (Shashi Kapoor). The British suspect him of being in league with a gang of bandits, allowing them to operate with impunity in exchange for a share of their booty.
The Nawab, a romantic and decadent minor prince who combines British distinction with Indian pomp and ruthlessness, invites all the Anglo-Indian officials and their wives for a dinner party at his palace. At the dinner, Olivia attracts the attention of the Nawab. Harry Hamilton-Paul enjoys a close intimacy with the Nawab and is a permanent guest at the palace.
With his good humor and charm, Harry serves a sort of court jester and he is well liked even by the chain smoking and proud Begum Mussarat Jahan (Madhur Jaffrey), the Nawab’s mother. In the midst of the intense summer heat, Harry falls ill and Olivia comes often to visit him at the Nawab’s palace. The Nawab easily seduces Olivia and they engage in an illicit affair.
Following in Olivia’s footsteps, Anne comes to Satipur to live in the same surroundings that framed Olivia’s story more than fifty years earlier. She stays as the guest of an Indian family. The head of the household, Inder Lal (Zakir Hussain), is a polite civil servant who serves as her guide while she tries to get connected with the world that Olivia lived. Inder Lal is worried that their hitherto innocent relationship will be perceived as sexual.
Lal is married with children and lives with his wife and his mother. Ritu, Lal’s young wife, is an epileptic and he slowly, but surely, endears himself to Anne to whom he is attracted. Anne befriends Chid (Charles McCaughan), an American sanyasi and would-be convert to Hindu mysticism. Chid tries to seduce Anne with his antics, but she firmly rebuffs his sexual advances while becoming closer to Inder Lal. Eventually, Anne invites Lal into her bed.
Heat and Dust (1983)
Directed by: James Ivory
Starring: Julie Christie, Greta Scacchi, Christopher Cazenove, Julian Glover, Susan Fleetwood, Jennifer Kendal, Shashi Kapoor
Screenplay by: Ruth PraJulie Jhabvala
Production Design by: Wilfred Shingleton
Cinematography by: Walter Lassally
Film Editing by: Humphrey Dixon
Costume Design by: Barbara Lane
Art Direction by: Maurice Fowler, Ram Yedekar
Music by: Richard Robbins
Distributed by: Universal Classics
Release Date: September 15, 1983