- Written and directed by Kruti Majmudar
- Starring Emily Hamilton, Parvin Dabas, Glenn Fitzgerald, Sweta Keswani, Murli Sharma and Denzil Smith
- Classification: PG
It's an arduous journey from England to India, especially if you go by way of Pittsburgh. And so we have The Memsahib, a film shot entirely in western India by a Pennsylvania writer-director Kruti Majmudar.
The filmmaker, who arrived with her family in the United States at age 2, clearly loves her ancestral home. She's also read E.M. Forster. Like Forster's A Passage to India , The Memsahib is alert to the challenge of friendship between races and the deficiencies of the British and Indian class systems.
It's 1851. A Brit schoolteacher, Grace (Emily Hamilton), arrives in Gujarat to be with her handsome rajah, Jayant (Parvin Dabas, Monsoon Wedding ). Draped in cooling silks and obviously in love, the newlyweds live in a palace, surrounded by doting servants. They should be happy. Certainly their throbbing hearts are in the right place. Grace wants to teach and help poor children. Jayant hopes to modernize India.
Then the world happens. Grace and Jayant's families like the old India, thank you very much. Before long, his scheming in-laws and her creepy cousin, Captain Nelson (Glenn Fitzgerald), an East India Company rep, conspire to cut the newlyweds out of the picture.
But wait! A bright sun takes over the screen, momentarily blinding us, and we are suddenly in modern India. Cars zipping everywhere. And there are Grace and Jayant reincarnated. She's Asha. He's Vijay. The newcomers soon face the same problem as their ancestors, however - how to co-exist happily on a crowded, multicoloured planet.
Though crafted with evident sympathy, The Memsahib is dramatically inert, with stilted dialogue and "my darling" - "my darling" love scenes between Grace and Jayant that are a trial to endure. And the English schoolteacher's letters home would embarrass an author of Hallmark cards: "Each day is a discovery, and as my husband tends to his beloved garden, I too desire to nurture my new life so that it may bloom and bear fruit. [Mother] you have told me to always do good."
Hamilton is a grating goody two-shoes as Grace. Dabas's wan sincerity is equally off-putting. But really, the only thing good actors can do with scripts as bad as this is turn them down.
The Memsahib is professionally photographed by Rajan Kothari. There is beautiful scenery. India is often intoxicating to behold. The film might succeed as a travelogue were it not for writer-director Majmudar's treacly narration.
Special to The Globe and Mail