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The relationship between writer and director Sir David Lean and Sir Alec Guinness deteriorated during the making of the movie. The final straw came for Guinness when he found out that a large chunk of his scenes had been left on the cutting room floor by Lean. Neither man ever met or spoke to the other again.
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Sir David Lean's first and last movie after a fourteen-year hiatus from the industry. He was so devastated by the negative reviews of Ryan's Daughter (1970), he dropped out of the filmmaking scene.
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Writer and director Sir David Lean had frequent on-set clashes with Judy Davis, who accused him of having lost his touch, not having directed for fourteen years.
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As well as several cast members, Sir David Lean steadily alienated most of his heads of department and their crew during production. The situation on-set deteriorated to such an extent that producer John Brabourne had to order the camera crew to at least say "good morning" to Lean each day.
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Satyajit Ray, who had hoped to direct his adaptation of the book, recommended Victor Banerjee for the role of Dr. Aziz. After some hesitation, Sir David Lean cast Banerjee, but Lean had to overcome the restrictions of British equity to employ an Indian actor. Lean got his way, and the casting made headlines in India. "It was a matter of national pride that an Indian was cast instead of an Asian from England", observed Banerjee.
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Sir Alec Guinness spent several weeks learning an intricate Hindu dance for a scene that ended up on the cutting room floor.
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Sir David Lean did not have a good relationship with most of the cast. Judy Davis told Lean "You can't fucking well direct" and claimed he didn't understand women. Victor Banerjee argued with Lean over Aziz's accent, calling him "obnoxious" and a hack compared to Satyajit Ray. Peggy Ashcroft disliked Lean's altering of the novel and "lack of respect" for her co-stars.
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Sir David Lean cast Judy Davis after a two-hour meeting. When Davis gave her interpretation of what happened in the caves, "She can't cope with her own sexuality, she just freaks out", Lean said that the part was hers.
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Sir David Lean had read the novel and saw the play in London in 1960, and, impressed, attempted to purchase the rights at that time, but E.M. Forster, who rejected Santha Rama Rau's suggestion to allow Satyajit Ray to make a movie, said no.
Peggy Ashcroft was initially reluctant to take the role of Mrs. Moore. She told Sir David Lean, "Mr Lean, I'm 75 years old." "So am I", he replied. Although she had recently worked in India on The Jewel in the Crown (1984), she said, "I thought, 'Oh dear, I really don't want to do it', but it's very difficult to turn down a Lean film."
During 1982, Sir David Lean worked on the script. He spent six months in New Delhi, to have a close feeling of the country while writing. As he could not stay longer than that for tax reasons, he then moved to Zurich for three months finishing it there. Following the same method he had employed with Great Expectations (1946), he went through his copy of the novel, picking out the episodes that were indispensable, and passing over those that did not advance the plot. Lean typed out the whole screenplay, correcting it as he went along, following the principle that scripts are not written, but re-written.
Peggy Ashcroft's favorite scene was when she got to ride an elephant.
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The main title music, by Maurice Jarre, is an upbeat variation of Jarre's own theme for Sir David Lean's Ryan's Daughter (1970).
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When she was in her fifties, Peggy Ashcroft attended the last performance of the theatrical version of "A Passage to India" and met E.M. Forster. He told her that one day she would play Mrs. Moore, something she thought very unlikely at the time because she was so much younger than the character.
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The Marabar Caves are based on the Barabar Caves, approximately thirty-five kilometers north of Gaya. Sir David Lean visited the caves during pre-production, and found them flat and unattractive. Concerns about bandits were also prevalent. Instead, he used the hills of Savandurga and Ramadevarabetta tens of kilometers from Bangalore, where much of the principal movie took place, small cave entrances were created by the production company.
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The initial script by Santha Rama Rau pleased neither producer John Brabourne nor writer and director Sir David Lean. They considered it too worldly and literary, the work of a playwright, and unsuitable for a movie. Most of the scenes took place indoors and in offices, while Lean had in mind to film outdoor as much as possible. With India in the title of the movie, he reasoned, audiences would expect to see many scenes filmed of the Indian landscape. Lean commented: "We are blessed with a fine movie title, 'A Passage to India'. But it has built in danger. It holds out such a promise. The very mention of India conjures up high expectations. It has sweep and size and is very romantic." Lean did not want to present a poor man's India, when for the same amount of money, he could show the country's visual richness.
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Sir David Lean wanted Celia Johnson to play Mrs. Moore, but she turned down the part and died before this movie was released.
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The first Sir David Lean movie not made in an ultra widescreen process since Summertime (1955), and only the second one to premiere in the age of multiplex cinemas (Ryan's Daughter (1970) was the first). The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) was made in CinemaScope, Lawrence of Arabia (1962) in Super Panavision 70, and Doctor Zhivago (1965) in Panavision. Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965) were shown in 70mm at their world premieres, and all three movies had aspect ratios wider than that of this movie.
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Part of an early 1980s cycle of British productions set in India. The others being Gandhi (1982), Heat and Dust (1983), The Far Pavilions (1984), Octopussy (1983), and The Jewel in the Crown (1984).
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The contract stipulated that Santha Rama Rau would write the screenplay. She had met with E.M. Forster, had successfully adapted "A Passage to India" as a play, and the author had charged her with preserving the spirit of the novel. However, Sir David Lean was determined to exercise input in the writing process. He met with Santha Rama Rau in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, and over ten days, they talked about the novel and discussed the script.
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Peggy Ashcroft's Oscar winning performance in this movie is her only Academy Award nomination.
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The character of Mr. Hadley as filmed was a nice little cameo, but in editing, most of his scenes were deleted, and all of his lines were cut as well (source Adam Blackwood).
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The original Broadway production of "A Passage to India" by Santha Rama Rau (born in Tamil Nadu, India) opened at the Ambassador Theater in New York City on January 31, 1962, and ran for one hundred nine performances.
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Sir David Lean considered Trevor Howard for the role of Richard Fielding, but decided he was too old for it.
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Saeed Jaffrey reprised his role as Mr. Hamidullah from BBC Play of the Month: Passage to India (1965). Ishaq Bux (Selim) played Qasam Ali in the same production. Jaffrey also appeared in the 1962 Broadway production, but as Professor Godbole.
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Included amongst the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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The cast includes two Oscar winners: Sir Alec Guinness and Peggy Ashcroft; and one Oscar nominee: Judy Davis.
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The only movie that year nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and not in Best Motion Picture Drama at the Golden Globes.
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The only Best Picture Oscar nominee that year to be also nominated for Best Original Score.
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To save money on the production, a scale model of the liner is presented in the opening scene. Adela looks at it in the window of the "Peninsula and Oriental Steam Navigation Company". The scene of Mrs. Moore's death was done on a partial studio mock up of a section of a steamship.
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