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February 8 - 28, 2004

Once Upon a Time in India: Images of the Colonial Era

In collaboration with the Sackler Museum and its current exhibition Image and Empire, the HFA presents a series of films that address the lives and struggles of Indian citizens during the time of British colonial rule. Although colonialism was a frequent subject for many Western filmmakers, colonialism viewed from the perspective of Indian filmmakers is the unique focus of this program of rarely screened works. From poignant biographies of freedom fighters to war-torn Bollywood romances, these films capture the spirit of a people whose struggles against the forces of empire are given voice through these dramatizations of modern Indian history.

The program is co-presented with the Meru Education Foundation and the Department of Islamic and Later Indian Art at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard.

May 11 (Sunday) 7 pm

1942: A Love Story

Directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra
India 1994, 35mm, color, 157 min.
With Anil Kapoor, Manisha Koirala, Anupam Kher
Hindi with English subtitles

The bombastic sentiment common to many Indian melodramas reaches a zenith in this historical production. Set in August 1942 during the Quit India Movement, a campaign that called for organized nonviolent protest under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, the film chronicles the critical moment at which a brutal and savage response by the British leads to the death of many protesters. In the midst of this turbulence, director Chopra presents the story of Nandu and Rajjo, lovers destined to be consumed by the ravaging fires of passion and liberation that are sweeping the land. Complicating their relationship are the efforts of a band of local freedom fighters who seek to liberate their small Himalayan town from British oppression and who care more about the collective commitment than the needs of individuals. Like many Bollywood films, 1942: A Love Story features a selection of musical pieces that provide both social commentary and lavish spectacle.

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May 12 (Monday) 7 pm - Introduced by Sugata Bose, Professor of Oceanic History and Affairs
May 21 (Wednesday) 7 pm


Directed by Keval P. Kashyap, Manoj Kumar, S. Ram Sharma
India 1965, 35mm, b/w, 150 min.
With Manoj Kumar, Prem Chopra, Kamini Kaushal
Hindi with English subtitles

Shaheed presents the inspiring story of one of India’s greatest patriots, Sardar Bhagat Singh, whose "self-sacrifice and bravery," according to Nehru, "passed the upper limits." Manoj Kumar stars as the great Sikh martyr who was instrumental in founding the early revolutionary movements in Lahore. Although the life of Bhagat Singh had been a popular subject for many Indian filmmakers, Kumar’s version is distinct in its efforts to both humanize its subject and celebrate him with song. Despite many attempts to remake this story, Kumar’s version remains unequaled in its depiction of the turbulent events that led to Bhagat Singh’s execution.

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May 14 (Wednesday) 7 pm

Possessed (Junoon)

Directed by Shyam Benegal
India 1978, 35mm, color, 141 min.
With Shashi Kapoor, Nafisa Ali
English and Hindi with English subtitles
Based on Ruskin Bond’s short story

"A Flight of Pigeons," Shyam Benegal’s melange of epic battle and intimate love story is set amidst the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, in which Indian units of the East India Company’s Army led a revolt that resulted in a popular uprising against British rule. Possessed chronicles these events through the lens of a family melodrama. After a costly massacre of British churchgoers by Indian patriots, an Anglo-Indian girl and her mother become the sole survivors. They are pursued by the rebel leader, a Pathan nobleman (Kapoor) who intends to kill the young woman and her family but instead falls passionately in love with her and abandons the fight for freedom in order to protect her family. As the rebel forces attempt to break the British siege of Delhi, the fates of each character are irrevocably changed.

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May 19 (Monday) 7 pm
May 23 (Friday) 7 pm


Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker
India 2001, 35mm, color, 224 min.
With Aamir Khan, Gracy Singh, Rachel Shelley 
Hindi, English, and Bhojpuri with English subtitles

An Academy Award nominee for best foreign-language film, Lagaan introduced the long-standing traditions of mainstream Bollywood to what was arguably its largest Western audience. After the rains have failed to produce a bounty for the farmers of a small Indian village at the height of the Raj in 1893, the townspeople organize a formal complaint, asking for a repeal of the colonial land tax known as "lagaan." Instead, the sneeringly racist local British commander challenges the townspeople to a game of good English cricket: if they win, the hated tax will be repealed; if they lose it will be tripled. Seasoned with ebullient musical numbers and featuring Indian heartthrob Aamir Khan, Lagaan tones down the anti-colonialist rhetoric while remaining firm in its critique of British policy and allowing the spectacle of song and dance to emerge as its most winning asset.

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May 20 (Tuesday) 7 pm


Directed by Bimal Roy
India 1955, 35mm, b/w, 159 min.
With Dilip Kumar, Motilal, Suchitra Sen
Hindi with English subtitles

Based on Saratchandra Chatterjee’s literary classic of the same name, Devdas has been brought to the screen in as many as nine different incarnations. Of these, the 1955 version has become the most warmly treasured in India thanks to an affecting performance by Dilip Kumar as the tragic title character. A boy from a wealthy family falls for Paro, the poor girl-next-door. While he goes away to university in Calcutta, her family arranges for her to be married to an even wealthier older suitor. Upon hearing the news, Devdas becomes a desperate alcoholic and takes refuge in the arms of prostitute. A heartbreaking turn of events seals the fate of Devdas, a character who so strongly affected actor Kumar that he had to seek counseling in order to recover from the stress of the performance.

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