Der Tiger von Eschnapur (1959)

… and its sequel, Das Indische Grabmal, also 1959.

Fritz Lang made the visually stunning Metropolis in 1927. Over thirty years later, freed from the constraints of black and white and silence, he made two films, which are together known as ‘Fritz Lang’s Indian epic’. The second film was Das Indische Grabmal (‘The Indian Tomb’); the first was this one, Der Tiger von Eschnapur, or ‘The Tiger of Eschnapur’.

The story is basically the same as that of a film Lang had made even further back than Metropolis; in 1921, he had made Das Indische Grabmal, based on a book by his wife Thea von Harbou (who, as you’d recall, also wrote Metropolis). In the 1950s, Lang remade Das Indische Grabmal, this time cutting it into two parts. Both Der Tiger von Eschnapur and Das Indische Grabmal were released in 1959, and have been much acclaimed ever since.

I thought this might be an interesting sequel to my last post. Did Fritz Lang’s excellence in Metropolis endure through the years?

The story begins in the fictitious province of Eschnapur, somewhere in India. It is evening, and in a walled village, people are going about their business when an alarm bell sounds and everybody flies into a panic. The gates of the village are banged shut and the villagers run into their houses.
In the village, sitting and smoking his pipe is a foreigner named Harald Berger (Paul Hubschmidt). When asked, the fleeing villagers tell him there’s a man-eating tiger in the vicinity.

The tiger does manage to enter the village [How? Since it’s walled and the gates are closed…], and kills a child. In the meantime, though, Berger has come to the rescue of a young woman named Baharani (Luciana Paluzzi), who’d been filling water at a well when some soldiers began harassing her.

Once the tiger’s made off with its unfortunate victim, Baharani’s mistress comes to thank Berger. This is Seetha (Debra Paget), and Berger is besotted from the word go.

During their brief chit-chat, they discover that they’re both headed in the same direction: to the palace of Chandra (Walther Reyer), the maharaja of Eschnapur. Berger explains that he is one of two architects whom Chandra has commissioned to design a new palace. The other architect is Berger’s brother-in-law Rhodes (Claus Holm), who is currently in Calcutta and will soon arrive in Eschnapur.

Seetha tells Berger that she is a temple dancer from Banaras, and has been invited by Chandra to dance at the temple in his city. Berger, eager to be of service, offers to escort her and Baharani the next day, on their way to Chandra’s palace. Seetha gladly accepts; as Baharani says, “It would be much safer if we had a man with us.” [Considering Seetha’s obvious wealth – those jewels are not paste – and the fact that she’s Chandra’s guest, it seems odd that she and Baharani only have one person to help them along: the cart driver].

Chandra, however, has sent an escort of six guards, whom Berger, Seetha & Co. meet en route – just as the dreaded tiger attacks. Chandra’s men run off, and the tiger is about to attack Seetha, when Berger comes to the rescue, driving the tiger off with a flaming branch. Seetha is suitably grateful – and already pretty much in love with Berger.
When they arrive in the city, Berger asks Seetha if he may visit her. Not in the temple, she says – since the temple is forbidden to foreigners – but otherwise [blushing prettily], of course.

The scene now shifts to the palace, where Chandra is feeding his pet tigers. [Yes. You never know when a tiger will come in use. He has them locked up in cages on ledges above a large central pit]. Looking on are some disgruntled souls, criticising the fact that Chandra, thanks to his part-Western education, is forgetting all the good Indian ideals he was brought up with.

Foremost amongst these critics is Padhu (Jochen Brockmann). Padhu is the brother of Chandra’s dead maharani, and is upset that Chandra has sent for this upstart dancer, whom he’s so obviously in love with. Chandra has made it clear that he intends to marry Seetha, which will leave Padhu with no standing whatsoever.

Padhu’s fellow conspirator is Ramigani (René Deltgen), Chandra’s older brother. Ramigani wants to be maharaja, so is all eagerness to bump Chandra off. He feels that the Chandra-Seetha match should be encouraged. If Chandra marries a mere dancer, it will infuriate all of Eschnapur: fostering rebellion will be easy in such a situation – and Ramigani can be the benefiter.

Meanwhile, Seetha and her escort, along with Berger, arrive in the city. When Chandra learns how Berger saved Seetha from the tiger, he is very grateful and bestows a massive emerald ring on Berger.

He also appoints an assistant for Berger. This is Asagara (Jochen Blume), an Indian architect who has trained in Paris and Vienna.

One day, Berger goes to meet Seetha, and makes an astonishing discovery. As she talks to him, she strums on a musical instrument – and the tune she strums is an Irish folk tune! When Berger asks her where she learnt it, she replies that her father had taught her, many years ago; once she even knew the words to the song. She remembers them only when Berger himself begins to sing the words.
Some more questioning, and it emerges that Seetha’s parents were killed so long ago, she doesn’t remember them. She was brought up by a priest in a temple.

She does, however, have one belonging of her father’s: a guitar, on which Berger finds inscribed: To Joe, from Frank. Underneath is ‘Cambridge’, and a date in the 1800s. Seetha recalls, then, that a red-haired man used to sometimes visit her parents, and he would address her father as ‘Joe’.
Berger is very excited to learn this. It means Seetha is European! [Yes, well – I could’ve guessed that too, considering she doesn’t look Indian. But, to be fair: her face is what he points out as being proof that she isn’t ‘native’].

While they’re waiting for Rhodes to arrive, Asagara and Berger are assigned one task in the interim: to check the foundations of the existing palace. Chandra fears that years of neglect and seepage may have weakened the foundations, so Berger and Asagara, armed with torches and a map, head down into the depths.

Here, Berger stumbles upon a forgotten dungeon full of lepers, guarded only by a long-dead (and nearly mummified) soldier. Asagara assures him that the lepers have to be kept out of the city, so this is where they’re walled up.

Berger’s next discovery is much more pleasant: he finds a tunnel that leads from the palace all the way to the temple where Seetha is dancing in front of a giant idol of the “goddess Sheeva”. [Hmm. I have never heard of a Hindu goddess called Sheeva, but might this be Shiva? – a very male deity, mind you. This goddess, with her huge bosom, is certainly not Shiva].

Seetha’s dancing looks nothing like any form of Indian dance – whether classical or folk – that I’ve ever seen. In fact, the golden cap on her head is totally ludicrous too.  But the audience – Chandra and a flock of priests, all of them sitting ramrod-stiff, their hands held in uncomfortable poses – look thoroughly enraptured. What with Seetha going through some very suggestive gyrations and pelvic thrusts on the idol’s upturned palm, I’m not surprised.

Berger manages to get away before anyone (except Seetha) has spotted him.
Chandra, libido now up and running, asks Seetha to shift to the palace as his guest. She does – she doesn’t have much choice – and Chandra soon makes his intentions very clear by gifting her a priceless emerald necklace (which used to be his maharani’s) and by letting her know he means to marry her.

A lot follows, in quick succession. Berger and Seetha confess their love for each other. Chandra finds out (helped along by a nasty priest named Yama, who spies on Seetha), and flies into a jealous rage. His anger is violent enough to alert Berger and Seetha, who flee for their lives, preferring to brave the desert around Eschnapur, rather than face Chandra’s certain revenge.

And Berger’s sister Irene (Sabine Bethmann) arrives with her husband, Rhodes, to be told that Berger has gone off on a tiger hunt. Irene knows her brother well enough to guess that this is hardly the way he’d be spending his spare time, so her suspicions are immediately aroused.

What does fate – and Chandra, and the motley crowd conspiring against him – have in store for Berger and Seetha? What, really, is Seetha’s past (remember ‘Joe’? Remember that guitar and that Irish folk tune Seetha knew?) And where does it all lead? Watch Das Indische Grabmal to find out.

Don’t watch this film on its own; Der Tiger von Eschnapur is, after all, only the first part of a two-film series; if you see only this one, you’ll end up with an incomplete story.

What I liked about this film:

The exterior shots, and some of the interiors that had been shot on location in Rajasthan. Fritz Lang had travelled widely in India, and his connections helped him secure the co-operation of the Maharaja of Udaipur (whose name appears – with much gratitude – in the credits). Large parts of the two films have been shot in and around the Lake Palace, with panoramic views of the lake, the palace, the blue skies above – or, inside, with fantastic views of the gardens or the gorgeous sheesh mahals (those distinctive mirror-and-glasswork halls so ubiquitous in Rajasthani and other north Indian palaces).

I love the composition of most of the shots. There’s lovely light and shadow here, superb angles and wonderful frames. Vintage Lang!

What I didn’t like:

Oh, dear. Oh, dear. I wish I could’ve said that these films impressed me as much as did Metropolis. On a very basic level, the ‘Indian epic’ and Metropolis share some similarities: an exotic locale (or at least one somewhat unfamiliar to audiences); a romance that is scowled upon by a dictator; festering rebellion; and a similar end to the story.  Where Metropolis had the edge was in that it was set in a land that was out-and-out fictitious; the city of Metropolis was imaginary, a world in the future. Unfortunately, Der Tiger von Eschnapur and Das Indische Grabmal are not set in a fictitious land; they’re set in India. If you happen to be Indian, or at least familiar enough with India, your reaction to this may well be similar to mine.

I squirmed and winced and giggled all through the film. People called Baharani? Ramigani? Asagara? Padhu? (yes, that’s pronounced ‘paad-hoo’, which suggests something pretty foul in Hindi!) The only people with names I’ve heard in India were Seetha and Chandra.

And a goddess named Sheeva? Please. (Also, I’m a little sceptical about Chandra’s resolve to marry Seetha. From what I can tell, Seetha – who’s described as a ‘temple dancer’ – is some sort of devadasi. In which case, she’d almost certainly be expected to have taken vows of celibacy – or at least wouldn’t be free to marry anyone).

Oh, and did I mention the clothing? Seetha’s sari pallu trails three feet behind her on the ground and is pinned seductively at her shoulder after being draped under (not over) her bosom. Plus the sari has no pleats (instead, she wears a smartly cut-and-slit sheath skirt underneath). And stilettoes.

Everybody also seems to think this gesture is a substitute for a namaste, or at least some sort of gesture of subservience:

Haven’t seen that around much, in real life.

And yes, I am forgiving the brownface, even though the makeup for the white actors purporting to be Indians changes from dark chocolate to latte from one scene to another.

Other than the problems with the cultural details (and some tatty special effects), there’s stuff here that I didn’t like with the two films. For instance, the plot and the pace are at odds with each other. The story’s a simple one: a romantic triangle mixed up with a plot to do away with the king who wants the woman. There aren’t too many plot twists and turns: not enough, at any rate, for it to have been stretched into two films. Too much time is spent on repetitive shots and dialogues: Berger and Seetha fleeing here, Berger and Seetha fleeing there, Ramigani and Padhu and Yama plotting this, Ramigani and Padhu and Yama plotting that. I found my attention wandering a lot.

Spoiler ahead:

Also, why on earth did that vague reference have to be made to Seetha’s European father? It created a mystery which never does get resolved – not in Der Tiger von Eschnapur, and not in Das Indische Grabmal. The only explanation I can offer is that it was a way of elevating Seetha from the ranks of the ‘natives’. If you’re at least part-white, it’s okay for the hero to fall in love with you and for that romance to end happily.

Bah.

Spoiler ends.

I’d read rave reviews of this film, and of Das Indische Grabmal, on everything from Rotten Tomatoes to IMDB to Amazon. I guess if you aren’t Indian, all that gorgeous exotica (not to mention Debra Paget’s admittedly sexy – but far from authentic ‘Indian’ – dance) would be reason enough to watch this duo.

Come to think of it, even if you’re Indian, you might want to watch it after all. You’re likely to get a lot of laughs out of it.

Advertisements

36 thoughts on “Der Tiger von Eschnapur (1959)

  1. The pictures look so exotic!! But maybe because Lang tried to project these foreigners as Indians. I watched Metropolis after you told me!! It was magical and so powerful. Will try and catch this one… Thanks for the warnings though!!

  2. I’m glad you liked Metropolis, Sharmi – and you’re right: it is powerful.

    One word of advice: if you do get around to watching Der Tiger von Eschnapur and Das Indische Grabmal (look around for the versions dubbed in English – they’re easily available) – watch them with no expectations of seeing anything authentically Indian! ;-)

    • Yup! We may have gone a little haywire with Yahudi, where Dilip Kumar plays a very unconvincing Roman (okay, I haven’t watched Sikandar yet), but generally we tended to confine our representations of the West to the 60s. So yes, THAT was payback for THIS!

      Beats me, though, why Fritz Lang – if he did get so much co-operation from the Maharaja of Udaipur and his minions – couldn’t ask somebody to simply help out with things as minor as names, or whether ‘Sheeva’ was a god or goddess. He wouldn’t even have needed to hire an Indian choreographer or costume designer.

  3. Please, you don’t have to be Indian – you only need to have watched a few classic Indian dances (IMO) – to know that all of the dancing, etc. is very un-Indian. (At least from what you’ve shown us.) I was going to complain that this all looked very silly, but then again, silly could be just fine if there’s good dancing. I kept waiting for the real dancing to begin. And the way it was set up… I was hoping it would end up looking something like this:

    • Exactly, Richard – you don’t need to be Indian! That’s what I meant about just being ‘familiar enough with India’. ;-)

      I was thinking about you, actually, when I saw Debra Paget’s dancing in these two films. I admit freely that I am no good at appreciating classical Indian dance forms – I can appreciate grace and flexibility and sheer beauty, but that’s about where it ends – but even I was squirming, just looking at the sheer awfulness of these dances. And from what all the other reviewers online seem to think, they were among the main highlights of the film. Arrrggghhh. I was wondering what you, who really appreciate good dance, would’ve thought of it!

      It also made me think: so much dancing that we see in Hindi films is not strictly classical, but a hotchpotch of classical, folk, and what-have-you, isn’t it? But there’s still something very quintessentially Indian about it.

      • I was wondering what you, who really appreciate good dance, would’ve thought of it!

        Why, thank you, Dustedoff, but I’m sure there are other readers of this blog who’ve learned more about this stuff, and for longer, than have, so I hope you’re not giving me more credit than I deserve. :)

        That’s what I meant about just being ‘familiar enough with India’. ;-)

        …Well, people from India (and Pakistan) and cultural products of the place, and film footage… Still have never set foot on the Subcontinent… But Fritz Lang had(?!)

        • No, I don’t think I’m giving you more credit than you deserve, Richard! Honestly, of all the people I know who aren’t trained in classical dance (or are you? – I assume not ;-)), you are probably the only one who appreciates good dance so much.

          Apparently, Fritz Lang had been to India – I don’t remember where I’d read that, now. But you know what? As I watched these two films, I kept unconsciously comparing them to another set-in-India film that I’d watched recently: North-West Frontier (which was, oddly enough, mostly filmed in Gibraltar, and was coincidentally also released the same year as Lang’s duo). The contrast between the films is stark: Lang’s films made me cringe because they were so obviously a glorified vision of what one thought Western audiences perceived India as, while North-West Frontier showed an India that even I could find believable. Was it merely a result of the fact that North-West Frontier was a British production, and the British were familiar with India, having been around here for well over 2 centuries?

          If you’ve a mind to read it (I haven’t, completely) here’s an interesting essay on Lang’s ‘Indian epic’, as well as other versions of the film(s):

          http://rouge.com.au/7/tiger.html

  4. I don’t know, who gave these films the laudations. In Austria at least the film Tiger von Eschnapur is very much looked down upon as German folklore of India. But it is at least shown twice or thrice a year on one or the other German, Austrian or Swiss channels, but the very name and the so-called aura surrounding it, dissuades me from watching it.
    And much of the misinformation transported by the film are still making its rounds, for e.g., that Shiva is a female. A female pop singer Nina Hagen named her daughter Cosma Shiva Hagen.
    One reason might be that Shiva is often portrayed as Ardhanareshwari (half male, half female; a sort of Hindu Yin and Yang)
    Devdasis were surely not expected to remain celibate, but they surely couldn’t marry a human being. And why would a king marry her, when he can have her as his concubine?
    So, I think I will give it a miss except if on a rainy afternoon, they are showing this movie on telly and no other good film or docus are shown and I can’t sleep and all my books are burnt or if I want to laugh at colonial concept of Indians and their lore. ;-)

    • Yes, that ardhnareeshwar concept had occurred to me too, but then the ardhnareeshwar is always depicted in a very special way, isn’t it? (half is male, half is female, even in sculpture or other depictions).

      I’m actually used to pretty bad depictions of India in Hollywood – for instance, The Charge of the Light Brigade and Against All Flags have some really ridiculous things about India and Indians. But I’d expected better of the Germans… there’s been a long tradition of deep interest in India, and some of the foremost scholars, at least in the field of history, are Germans. Though I’m speaking personally only from my own experiences with the superb Mughal-related work by people like Anne-Marie Schimmel and Ebba Koch (okay, she is Austrian, but still), my sister – who I may have mentioned, is a historian – tells me that there are several other very prominent Germans in the field.

      Silly, I suppose, to think that just because some great Indologists include Germans, all Germans would be expected to know more about India than other nationalities would. But I would think Fritz Lang – who took obviously a lot of pains to make these two films – should have made such dreadful blunders. That was what was so disappointing. :-(

      P.S. Cosma Shiva Hagen?! Yikes. What next?

    • I saw Nina Hagen live close to 30 years ago and have been aware of her now and then since. She is, shall we say, extremely theatrical, and while I don’t know much about her off-stage life, the eccentricity never seemed as contrived as with some of today’s big pop stars. (Which is not to say she is good, exactly…) She’s not mainstream pop, as I recall, either, has a much harder sound (she’d started as one of the Goth-punk types). I could easily see her doing a show of some kind in that Fritz Lang temple… I hope that kid of hers turns out all right…

  5. I guess the films would be fun to watch, just as ‘masala’ films. And Rajasthan, is always love, it’s meant for cinema.

  6. ” I am forgiving the brownface, even though the makeup for the white actors purporting to be Indians changes from dark chocolate to latte from one scene to another.”

    Given the bucketloads of Fair & Lovely applied to brown Indians to make them seem gori on screen, this seems only just. :)

    Joking aside, though, I agree with your comments. I cringed just reading your commentary on the film. “Native”? aargh! Even coming from someone like Kipling in Kim that word makes me squirm, from a complete outsider, six decades later, it’s just wrong.

    • …and that mystery about Seetha’s origins – that sort-of insinuation that she was ‘worthy’ of being loved by the white hero, simply because she was part-white herself – oh, that made me see red!

      The bucketloads of Fair & Lovely is what’s prevented me watching old South Indian films so far. I remember watching song clips from old MGR/NTR etc films as a kid, and the abiding image that remains is of heroes with heavily lipsticked, pancake faces. Just the thought of that puts me off. There is nothing wrong with being dark-skinned – but society seems to make a huge thing out of it.

      P.S. Re: Kim. I asked around for a Hindi version, but no – not available in any big bookstore. I don’t think it’s been translated.

      • I asked as well. Kim does not seem to have been translated into Hindi – in fact, very few novels that would come under “universal literature” seem to beeen translated.

        • Thank you both for asking. It’s pity that someone who, for all his colonialism, really did love the country he was born and grew up in, hasn’t had his work translated into Hindi.

          • In fact, ever since you asked me about it, I’ve been looking more closely at the (admittedly limited) bookshelves of the larger bookstores in Delhi. They’re mostly filled with heavy-sounding treatises on the evolution of Hindi, or works on Hinduism, spirituality and so on. The only good literature I’ve come across is work that was originally written in Hindi – Premchand, for instance. I don’t recall seeing any books that were translations.

  7. Madhu, ugh! If I had even dreamt of watching this film, I think I will now give it a pass – lover of raja-rani masala films though I am! I picked up ‘Akeli Mat Jaiyo’ in India (amongst a host of others) based on your review, and I am hoping to enjoy it. :)

    • Yikes! You picked up Akeli Mat Jaiyo based on my review?! I should’ve made it clear that it should’ve come with a tagline: Isko mat khareediyo! ;-) Anyway, the songs are nice – at least that wonderful Meenu Mumtaz one in the nightclub is good – and Meena Kumari looks lovely. I do hope you enjoy it more than I did.

      P.S. Yes, don’t watch these two films – very disappointing. This video should give you a good idea of what the film was like… how Indian:

      • Yes, I did! See what you are responsible for?? Actually, I saw it today, simply because I didn’t want to go to sleep (jet lag) in the morning – I must confess I quite enjoyed parts of it – Meena is so good in the light parts, I wish more directors had made use of her comic timing. I could cheerfully wish away Rajendra Kumar though, and there were two of him in this movie! But he was less annoying than he usually is, maybe because he was more than usually subdued in this movie apart from the ‘darrling’ ‘darrrling’ in the beginning which grated on my nerves.

        I see what you said about ‘Indian’ – God keep me away from such Indianness. What on earth were they thinking? Or were they at all???

        Anyway, good to come back and catch up on your posts though I must admit that I wish you had linked to something more interesting than this one. :( Qawwali post finally up, by the way. I had such connection issues in Kerala that I decided to wait until I reached here to post it.

        • Yes, Rajendra Kumar isn’t one of my favourite actors either. And that awful ventriloquist’s dummy he paraded around with in Akeli Mat Jaiyo really got on my nerves.

          Don’t worry, there’s a review of a film coming up in a couple of days’ time that I think you’ll like much more than these two films. :-)

          I’ve already read through your qawwali post, by the way – didn’t have the time to post a comment on it last night, but will do so now!

  8. Well, I think the film shows India and Indians the same way, like tribals or, like memsaab said, goris and goras are shown in Hindi cinema.
    BTW Indiana Jones is also somewhat in the same boat.
    But all of them somehow still at times “entertaining”.

    • True, Indiana Jones – or for that matter, even films like King Solomon’s Mines (which I guess a lot of Africans might think utterly inaccurate) – have a lot of entertainment value despite their OTT nature. I guess there was a tendency to ‘exotify’ – to its fullest extent – a land that audiences already thought of as exotic. But where films like the Indiana Jones ones score is that they’re fast-paced and the plot is good, so one may be able to forgive other drawbacks. In Der Tiger von Eschnapur and Das Indische Grabmal, the story moves slowly and repetitively, so a nit-picking viewer has more time to spot all the shortcomings in the film! ;-)

    • All right, I have a confession to make: there was one Indiana Jones film I hadn’t seen – The Temple of Doom – but I watched it last night, and God help me – it was awful. I wanted to strangle that screechy blonde, and the story was nonsensical in the extreme. I mean, one minute he’s up in Tibet or something, and then a lifeboat ride over rapids, and he’s down in what is obviously Sri Lanka (yes, I figured that out without even waiting for the credits – the scenery, with the palm trees, was very coastal and the people looked as if they were from peninsular India or further south, and Indiana Jones said, “stuti” (Sinhala for “thank you” – didn’t Spielberg ask anybody what was Hindi for “thank you”?)… Sri Lanka, definitely. And a Sri Lanka that seems to border Rajasthan, too!

      :-(( My faith in Spielberg has been shaken considerably.

      • I will heed all views expressed here and not see the movie, Der Tiger von Eschnapur, not that there much chance of my seeing it anyway:))
        The only thing I wanted to add is that I liked IJ&TTOD :))) The story I heard was that Spielberg wanted to shoot in India, but the Indian Central Govt. demanded to see the script & OK it.(or something to that effect). Spielberg felt insulted, and instead filmed in Sri Lanka, and also added some of those “chilled monkey brain” & “snake within snake” dishes.
        Now this could very well be completely untrue, but that is what I heard.
        In any event it does not excuse Spielberg’s depiction, but probably (if it is true) provides a background.

        • Ewww… yes, I’d forgotten about that chilled monkey brain and snake-within-snake stuff (I think my mind decided to erase those images!!). Awful.

          I can well imagine that the Indian government may have tried to act high-handed with Spielberg, but a good bit of the film – my opinion, completely – was that it seemed downright silly. Whereas Raiders of the Lost Ark had an interesting (and – at least on the surface – intelligent) premise, this one wasn’t even that, forget about the Indians being depicted as either evil villains or gullible villagers, nothing in between.

          I need to watch something good now.

  9. Lol Dusted off, you’ve killed me with so much laughter with this review, I was about to congratulate the costume designer but then i noticed some discrepancies as you’ve pointed out, but still I think the men’s costumes seemed much better. And as for that hand gesture I think it must be in someone’s imagination, I’m wondering why they just didn’t employ Indians to show them the ropes on how things are

    • You’re right, the men’s costumes generally seemed to be more authentic than the women’s (or, I should be more specific: Seetha’s). Seetha’s costumes were pretty but completely not Indian, though other women, most notably Baharani, did wear a fairly authentic-looking sari (okay, draped completely gracelessly, but still!) I guess the costume designer thought an average sari too dull and boring for the heroine (which makes me wonder: why not some interesting ghagras and so on?)

      But yes, considering they had the co-operation of the Maharaja of Udaipur, I’m surprised they didn’t make fuller use of Indian resources that are bound to have been at their disposal. Just about anyone in India could’ve told Lang the sari, the dance, and ‘Sheeva’ were absolutely laughable.

  10. Hi Madhu,
    I stumbled here thinking that you had perhaps seen these Fritz Lang films, because of the DO theme you know, and I was right! They were shown tonight on French TV, and I thought I’d give them a try. I too had a good laugh with this German-speaking, colonialist cum racist, hyper-sexualized Technicoloured Escapism.
    The critic in my TV magazine says rightly that for us French audience it is reminiscent of Tintin, you know, Hergé’s young hero-detective, also full of prejudices which people didn’t care to have, back in those days. In these two movies, bad luck just fell on India, so to speak! The same would been done to any exotic location: an avalanche of clichés cleverly sewn together to make people enjoy the “native” pulsions which such cinema enabled you to caress…
    As I watched, I tried to locate the references, and in fact I think the main one is Rome, I mean Ancient Rome. The “Indians” are dressed as rich Romans, you have the wild beats (“Mensch-fresser”!) who are there only to serve as gladiator-fodder, there are the baaad Egyptian-looking priests, the Pyramid-looking tombs and secret passages, and I almost missed the virtuous Christians! But wait, the German architect, here’s my Christian martyr! He doesn’t die for his faith, but he gets saved by a genuine Irish Catholic girl!!
    Yes, and Sheeva… What fun! I’m not a specialist of Hindu mythology, God knows, but the minute I saw this Goddess-torso half buried in the ground, I told myself: wow, now there’s what the German audiences (who probably thought Khajuraho was India’s capital city…) are going to like…! Of course, they would mostly relish the supple body of Elvis Presley’s paramour in Love me tender (I confess I did too, that dance snake is … enticing), but I would have thought Fritz Lang would have had a better taste than what the film’s overall quality might have had, sigh.
    Er… I wonder why he didn’t use any Indian actors or actresses (how bare everything looks in his mock-Udaipur!) : could it be because he wanted all that cheap skin?

    • Yves, what a coincidence that you should have commented on this post now, because only just yesterday, I left a comment about the ‘Sheeva’ dance on Karthik’s blog!

      I was grinning all through your comment. Yes, this was a frightful film, wasn’t it? It had all those cliches and completely stereotyped imagery that the West held about India (I would have expected it to have dissolved a bit by the 1950s, but – well, who knew?!) But then, I don’t suppose Lang was alone in this; all you have to do is watch some of those set-in-the-East films Hollywood made around that time, and you see all of this all over again: awful costumes, Caucasians in blackface/brownface/yellowface, completely haywire cultural references, etc. Not to say that Indian cinema didn’t do the same in reverse, but then the mere fact that Indian film-makers could rarely afford to set a film abroad made a slight difference.

      But I must admit – as you point out too – that one would have expected better from Lang. I mean, I watched this after seeing Metropolis, and couldn’t have believed it was made by the same man!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s