Bhowani Junction (1956)
“M-G-M’s Drama Aflame With Love And Revolt!”
Director: George Cukor
Cast: Ava Gardner, Stewart Granger, Bill Travers
Synopsis: Anglo-Indian Victoria Jones seeks her true identity amid the chaos of the British withdrawal from India.
Based on John Master’s best-selling novel, this tale of the last days of British rule in India was quite a success in its day. Today, having lost the element of immediacy and relevance it enjoyed when originally released, it’s perhaps not surprising that Bhowani Junction has lost some of its impact. The issues it deals with are complex and, unfortunately, this makes the story a little confusing to begin with, and convoluted throughout.
Ava Gardner gives arguably the best performance of her career as Victoria, the Anglo-Indian daughter of a Welsh train driver and an Indian woman, managing to convey with understated skill the frustrations and torment of being dismissed by the Indians as an Englishwoman, and by the English as an Indian (or ‘wog’ as they so succinctly put it). Perhaps she saw the way Bill Travers decided to handle his role as her male counterpart – and initial romantic interest – and chose a path diametrically opposed to his outrageously over-the-top performance. Considering the fact that she also battles against a script that is sometimes a little turgid, and which fails to really capture the ordeal of her kind in those tumultuous times, her performance is to be admired.
Interestingly, permission to shoot the movie in India was refused, so Pakistan was used as a substitute. Freddie Young does a marvellous job of capturing both the wonderful terrain, and the turbulent riot scenes.
One major drawback is the producer’s decision to use non-Indian actors in the roles of Indian people. No matter how good the accent, and how well the make-up has been applied, the result is always going to be a poor second to the real thing. Surely, the producers could have found English-speaking Indian actors to fill the required roles.
That complaint aside, Bhowani Junction is a worthy — if slightly stodgy — movie, that’s worth catching when it shows up on TV.
(Reviewed 23rd April 2002)