Thuggee and Sati Revisited
The Persistence of the Colonial Gaze in the Merchant Ivory Film the Deceivers
Films on Indian themes made by western filmmakers have often been ridden with stereotypes and clichés. The wave of Raj films that came out of British and American production companies in the years since India‟s independence have largely been nostalgia-driven, and they almost invariably end up exoticising the region. However, with regard to films made by the nonHollywood film company named Merchant-Ivory Productions, audiences had come to expect more sophisticated and nuanced treatments of themes drawn from Indian history. This paper examines one of their films, The Deceivers, which deals with the twin themes of Thuggee and Sati. The discussion of the film is set against the broader context of the literature and cinema spawned by Western interest in the Raj era. While it is certainly more aesthetically sophisticated than the Hollywood type of Raj films, The Deceivers nevertheless falls short of engaging with the complexities of 19th century India in any meaningful way and is especially blind to the tendency of colonial propaganda to criminalise entire ethnic groups. Such attempts at cross-cultural representation are nevertheless valuable from a pedagogic point of view in the specific context of postcolonial approaches in the humanities classrooms in our colleges.
Keywords: Colonial, Empire, Gender, Sati, Stereotypes, Thuggee