Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Assam Garden

For obvious reasons, I am curious about the mention of Assam in situations where there is no obvious connection. Recently, I learnt that Hollywood actor Audrey Hepburn had a dog called Assam. How did she come up with the name? Because she liked Assam tea?

Today, I learnt about a little-seen British film titled ‘The Assam Garden’. Really. That too starring an aging Deborah Kerr. The following is some of the stuff about the film that Google would help me find.

Says Wikipedia: The Assam Garden is a 1985 British drama film made by Moving Picture Company and distributed by Contemporary Films Ltd. The film was directed by Mary McMurray and produced by Nigel Stafford-Clark with Peter Jaques as associate producer. It was written by Elisabeth Bond. The music score was by Richard Harvey and the cinematography by Bryan Loftus. The film stars Deborah Kerr and Madhur Jaffrey with Alec McCowen, Zia Mohyeddin, Anton Lesser and Iain Cuthbertson. The film was shot at Priors Mesne in Aylburton, Gloucestershire, England. At certain times of the year the garden is opened as part of the NGS (Gardens open for Charity) Scheme. In addition part of the land owned by Priors Mesne and run by the owners is now a Deer Park.

Walter Goodman review the film in The New York Times in July 30, 1986: “THE ASSAM GARDEN,” a British movie that opens today at the Film Forum, brings Deborah Kerr back to America's screens after 15 years. She plays an elderly woman in the southwest of England whose husband has just died. As young marrieds, the couple had run a tea plantation in India, and on their return home, they created an elaborate, Indian-style garden in their big backyard. Miss Kerr is convinced that her husband gave his life to it.

Into this garden, which the newmade dowager tends devotedly in prospect of recognition in ''Great British Gardens,'' comes an Indian woman now residing with her ailing husband in a nearby housing project. What ensues is mainly a duet for two elderly ladies - getting to know you, as Miss Kerr was once wont to put it.

What they get to know is that both are displaced persons, moving into old age with memories of happier years in India. Miss Kerr gives a nicely modulated performance in the somewhat familiar role of a proper English gentlewoman, outwardly confident but filled with misgivings about her ability to carry on. Madhur Jaffrey has the more interesting part, apparently subservient but effectively manipulative, and plays it with nuances galore. That is not a small achievement given the flatly earnest quality of the script by Elisabeth Bond and the overly explicit direction of Mary McMurray, making her directorial debut.

''The Assam Garden'' is as stuffed with sensibility as the dowager's drawing room is with mementos. Insistent music signals each change of mood, and every unsurprising development of the women's relationship is rubbed in like the ointment that Miss Jaffrey uses on Miss Kerr's bruised knee. ''I don't want to see you go,'' says Miss Kerr finally, in case we hadn't noticed.

prodosh_bhattacharya (India), a user at the, however, has some nice things to say: This unpretentious little gem came out around the same time as David Lean's PASSAGE TO India, and has been unfairly overshadowed by the blockbuster. I was charmed by the quiet, sensitive, yet emotionally charged portrayal of how an insecure, aggressive widow of a tea garden manager reluctantly develops an affectionate relationship with an Indian housewife and her family. What I found particularly good was that the Indian housewife, played excellently by Madhur Jaffrey, is no impossible goody-goody, but as much a human being with likes, dislikes and prejudices as the widow played by Deborah Kerr. There is also the sad irony of the grandchildren of the Indian family inevitably leaving their 'Indianness' behind in favour of a British lifestyle. Strongly recommended for those in the mood for subtlety and understatement. And it should be watched with Lean's PASSAGE TO India for fruitful comparisons. To my mind, and I'm probably in a minority of one, THE ASSAM GARDEN is the better of the two films. I once possessed a video recording of it, which is now the property of the Film Studies Department of Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India.

And this is what Time Out London has to say: Though very much a two-hander and marred by the restraint that the film itself castigates, this is an often affecting study of two women - the widow of a colonial bigwig, cherishing memories of her privileged years in India, and the elderly Indian immigrant who to some extent penetrates the English woman's loneliness by forcefully offering friendship. It's a discreet and subtle movie, gradually scratching away at Kerr's veneer of happiness to reveal a core of frustration and resentment. Both the camera, prowling around the gorgeous garden that the women tend together, and Kerr's carefully controlled performance, suggest further depths of dissatisfaction. Far from original, but engaging.

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