A Passage to India (1984)

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Released 8-Jun-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1984
Running Time 157:00
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (77:03) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By David Lean

Starring Judy Davis
Victor Banerjee
Peggy Ashcroft
James Fox
Alec Guinness
Nigel Havers
Richard Wilson
Antonia Pemberton
Michael Culver
Art Malik
Saeed Jaffrey
Clive Swift
Anne Firbank
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music John Dalby
Maurice Jarre

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    A Passage to India is based on the 1924 novel by EM Forster, as well as a play by Indian playwright Shanta Rama Rau. Forster, of English origin, actually spent several years in India in the early 20th century, and in fact served as private secretary to a Maharajah (King). The story is basically a character-based study of the attitudes of many of the English residents in India during the 'glory' days of the British Raj.

    The film, by noted English director David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai, Dr Zhivago) follows the original novel fairly closely, though with some (not many) changes made to suit big-screen action. In the main, the British characters exhibit the ingrained racist and 'superior' attitudes that many of the British occupiers of India held. At best, this could be demonstrated as condescension. These attitudes are clearly written into the characters of Ronny Heaslop, played by Nigel Havers, as well as Major and Mrs Callender. These characters really embody the attitudes of the English via the obvious prejudice, both direct and perhaps even worse, through condescension and a patronising outlook on the local populace.

     However, the story does depict the more humane or even naive approach of some of the British immigrants. Examples of these include the lead character of Adela Quested, played by Western Australia born Judy Davis, as well as Mrs Moore (an Oscar-winning performance from Peggy Ashcroft), and my favourite character in the film, Richard Fielding, played stiffly by James Fox.

   Adela Quested and her travelling companion arrive in India in the 1920s, with the intention of the former marrying her fiancée, Ronny Heaslop, a city magistrate. However in her quest to meet 'real' locals rather than just the British migrants, she meets a local doctor, Aziz Ahmed, played a little too subserviently by Victor Bannerjee.  An attraction seems to develop between the two, though this is thankfully never really brought to the fore, and left more to the viewer's imagination. However, the drama soon develops as we see Adela finding difficulty adjusting to the heat, dust and the very confronting spectacle of India. Her friendship with Dr Aziz continues to develop and she eventually agrees to go on an excursion with him to some distant caves. It is then that circumstances arise that see her making an accusation of rape against him. I found it interesting that one doesn't actually see or hear Adela making the accusation of rape at any stage, which led me to think that perhaps she was cajoled into it by a number of her British 'friends', anxious to distance her from Dr Aziz. They might have felt that this sort of friendship with the 'locals' just didn't fit in with their gin-and-tonic and cucumber sandwich lifestyle.

    Along the way we are introduced to Dr Richard Fielding, a teacher who has an obvious and genuine affection for India and its people. He is a close friend of Dr Aziz, and it is Fielding who introduces Dr Aziz to Adela. A not so effective character is that of Professor Godbole, an Indian played with a touch of Peter Sellers by the great British actor, Alec Guiness. A fine actor he is, but in this role the lines he delivers, the accent he puts on, and the coloured facepaint just ends up looking rather cheap. It really comes across as nothing much more than a marketing exercise that detracts from the film's otherwise fairly stately carriage. While the character of Godbole in the film doesn't really contribute much anyway, he should still have been played by an actor of Indian origin.

    Some of the supporting cast of local actors (well, some of British Indian origin anyway) include Art Malik, Saeed Jaffrey, and Roshan Seth, a fine actor in a curiously truncated role as advocate Amritrao who is brought in to defend Dr Aziz. Perhaps there were late cuts made to the film?

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Transfer Quality


    The video transfer on this disk is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The original theatrical ratio appears to have been 1.66:1 so the 'wider' ratio on this DVD seems to have been achieved by slightly close-matting the print at the top and bottom edges. To my eyes, the result actually looks better and more 'cinematic', though at the expense of a slight loss of picture at the top and bottom edges.

    Overall this is a slightly soft image, though given the age of the film, it's not bad at all. There was obviously good source material used for this transfer, or extensive restoration was done, or both.

    Shadow detail is quite good, and appears consistent with the Director and Cinematographer's original intentions. i.e. the shadow detail never looks lacking nor too bright.

    Grain was never a major problem, even in the bright outdoor scenes with plenty of sky. It was there occasionally but was never an issue.

    The colour palette was rich and never oversaturated and helps convey the feeling of heat and dust quite effectively. Skin tones appear natural at all times.

    There was a trace of edge enhancement, though it is never too distracting.

    The only real film artefacts I spotted were very few white specks (negative artefacts).

    Subtitles were available in English and a number of other languages. I sampled the English subtitles and found that they were quite accurate and well-timed with the on screen dialogue. Interestingly they include the title and composer details of most songs that were played (e.g. by military bands), or even hummed by one of the actors!

    This is a dual layer disc and the layer change occurs at 77:03. It is placed mid-scene and is quite obvious.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Overall there is a slightly 'dated' sound to the soundtrack, with it lacking a little in the upper and lowermost frequencies. It is also recorded on this disc at a lower than normal level. The soundtrack is presented in English in Dolby Digital 5.1, and French and Spanish in Dolby Digital 2.0, although the latter sounds more like mono. The original film soundtrack  was recorded in Dolby Stereo so some efforts have been taken to remix it to Dolby Digital 5.1.

    Dialogue is clear for the most part, except in some noisy or crowded scenes, in which the main speaking character's voice can be somewhat indistinct as it appears to have been recorded 'live' and not ADRed later (or at least not very well). Some of the spoken Hindi is not translated in the subtitles.

    Maurice Jarre's Oscar-winning music score wisely steers away from incorporating Indian elements, and instead is a wonderful, big-screen effort that is typical of this great composer. While it doesn't really stay in the viewer's head, like his scores for Dr Zhivago or Lawrence of Arabia, it is nevertheless another fine effort from this prolific composer. It can be dramatic, tense, sweeping or mysterious as the scenes require.

    Although the soundtrack was remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1, the sonic action stays pretty much across the front speakers, where it does spread out quite widely. However there are the occasional effects present in the rear speakers such as the echoes in the cave at 73:29 and 81:50. There is also some panning of sound effects from the rear to the front speakers, such as at 82:35.

    The subwoofer rumbles nicely in the cave scenes at 73:00 and 81:50.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Theatrical Trailer

    The only extra on this disc is the original theatrical trailer for the film. It is presented at 1.85:1 16x9 enhanced and runs for 3:27.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    In Region 1 this film has been released in a 'widescreen' version, though I cannot determine whether it has Dolby Digital 5.1 sound nor whether it includes any extras.

    It is also available as part of a 3-disk set called the David Lean Collection which also includes Bridge over the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia.

    The benefits of the PAL transfer should mean that the R4 version is the better one, unless one was keen on the David Lean triple disc set.


    A Passage to India was made in that old style of British filmmaking, the likes of which may never be seen again as this was David Lean's last film before his death in 1991. It is nowhere near his greatest works such as Dr Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, or Bridge over the River Kwai, but is nevertheless a fine film by any standards. It still has the beautifully photographed majestic, sweeping landscape scenes which many of his previous works exhibited. It also has some scenes that are rather stodgy with stilted dialogue, and some shots do seem to linger just slightly longer than they should, but that's just part of the gentle yet slowly engrossing nature of this film.

    The story starts off slowly, but like one of the old Indian steam trains, it builds up gradually to a pleasant, if not express, pace. Unfortunately though, the film wraps things up a little too neatly towards its conclusion.

    Overall, while not the best of the films from the great director, it's still a nice throwback to a gentler style of filmmaking and has a story that's interesting and even engrossing at times. Passage is presented very well on this disc with good picture and good sound, especially considering the age of the source material. On disc it looks like a far more recent release.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Satish Rajah (don't read my bio!)
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-344 Multi-Region, using Component output
DisplaySony KV-XA34M31 80cm. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVR-2801
SpeakersMain: Mission 753; Centre: Mission m7c2; rear: Mission 77DS; Sub: JBL PB10

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
R4 better picture - penguin (there is no bio)
David Leans 'Ryans Daughter' -