London, Dec. 20: India’s foremost living authority on English novelist E.M. Forster, former foreign minister Natwar Singh, will be saddened by the news that the independent British television network, ITV, is pulling the plug on its remake of A Passage to India.
Money — rather than a fear of terrorism — is the problem.
A spokesperson for ITV, which has been particularly hard hit by the drop in advertising revenue, confirmed yesterday: “We will not be taking forward the commission of A Passage to India. When this drama was commissioned, nobody could have foreseen the economic circumstances we find ourselves in now. This is unprecedented. We have to allocate our resources wisely.”
ITV had agreed to a £225,000 rights fee with King’s College, Cambridge, where Natwar studied for a while and met Forster when the novelist was in residence towards the end of his life. Since then Natwar has written a number of essays on Forster and holds him in high regard.
The network also spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on pre-production work in India.
For the remake, director Adrian Shergold had picked a new generation of British TV stars, including Matthew Macfadyen, Laurence Fox and Sally Hawkins.
The cancellation will delight Nobel Prize winner V.S. Naipaul who famously said Forster was a homosexual who wrote rubbish novels and went to India in the time of the Raj to procure small boys.
ITV’s cancellation of the multi-million-pound, two-part drama, on which principal photography was due to begin next month in India, will deprive a number of Indian actors and actresses of much needed hard currency.
The truth is that if British networks such as ITV have to make cuts in an economic downturn, their first effort will be to save reality TV shows, home-grown soaps set in council estates and pubs and similar downmarket stuff that are likely to attract high ratings.
Rather like The Jewel in the Crown in 1984, based on Paul Scott’s novels, the appeal of a television adaptation of A Passage to India is that it is not so much about India or Indians as the British in India.
David Lean’s 1984 epic version of A Passage to India won a number of awards, including two Oscars — Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Peggy Ashcroft and Best Music, Original Score, for Maurice Jarre. It also won favourable reviews for Victor Banerjee for his portrayal of Dr Aziz H. Ahmed, the young Indian who did not molest the impressionable Miss Adela Quested (played by Judy Davis) in the Marabar Caves.
In fact, there was the potential in a remake to come up with a more controversial ending. In Forster’s 1924 novel, Aziz is found not guilty, but The Telegraph’s research into earlier versions of the novel has come up with a startling discovery — Aziz did indeed lust after white flesh, Forster reckoned, and, sad to say, did gain unlawful carnal knowledge of Quested.
Having written this version, Forster shelved it for many years, returned to India and thought better of his original ending. He decided that the chaos of India had got to Quested and the silly girl had imagined the whole episode.
Apart from Ashcroft as Mrs Moore, Lean cast a number of big names in his movie — for example, James Fox as Richard Fielding, Nigel Havers as Ronny Heaslop and the rising Roshan Seth as advocate Amrit Rao.
But there was one piece of casting that is regarded with hindsight as possibly the most disastrous in modern British cinema — the great Alec Guinness as Indian wise man Professor Godbole. Lean had once wanted him to play Gandhi in a film that was scrapped.
Since 1984 until now, the Godbole fiasco has ensured that no white Brit is ever browned up to play a desi with nodding head and a Peter Sellars accent. This has put business in the way of people like Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah and most recently Anil Kapoor.
There has been a superior version of A Passage to India — that was a stage production in 2004 by the Shared Experience theatre company which has toured India though not with its version of Forster’s novel.
Naipaul has not been kind either to the author or the book.
“People like E.M. Forster make a pretence of making poetry of the three religions,” Naipaul said in one interview. “It’s false. It’s a pretence. It’s utter rubbish. It has only one real scene, and that’s the foolish little tea party at the beginning. I don’t think there is another real scene.”
Forster, who died in 1970, was also whiplashed by Naipaul for his homosexuality and apparently not understanding Indian culture. “Forster, of course, has his own purposes in India. He is a homosexual and he has his time in India. He just knew the court and a few middle-class Indians and a few garden boys whom he wished to seduce.”