‘Temple of Doom’ is the Indiana Jones movie that Indians won’t forget in a hurry

Set in colonial India, the 1984 movie features Amrish Puri as a murderous priest of a Kali-worshipping cult and snakes, spiders and monkey brains on the menu.

Hollywood is never one for letting blockbuster film franchises die. The latest set of adventures to be exhumed concerns Indiana Jones, the scruffy rule-breaking archaeologist and treasure hunter who has headlined four movies by Steven Spielberg and is scheduled for a comeback in 2019. Harrison Ford will return as Jones, which he first played in Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981.

The second in the series, Temple of Doom (1984) was banned in India at the time of its release. It’s not hard to see why local censors were horrified at a movie set in colonial-era India that stereotyped nearly every single character who had the misfortune of having brown skin. Chief among the dastardly Indians is the occult priest Mola Ram, played with nostril-flaring gusto by Amrish Puri. The burly actor with the tonsured pate, rumbling voice and piercing gaze pulls beating hearts out of his victims and oversees an underground mine where underfed children are put to work. Thank heavens for the British.

Mola Ram at work.

Mola Ram is the head of a thuggee cult that has possessed the young prince of Pankot Palace, named Zalim Singh. Mola Ram has been stealing magically endowed shivlings from around the region to harvest their powers and become a supreme overlord. He worships the goddess Kali, made here to look like a cadaverous demon of unspecified gender.

The goddess Kali.
The goddess Kali.

Before sneaking into Mola Ram’s lair, Jones, accompanied by the underclad and easily frightened Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) and a Chinese boy named Short Round (Jonathon Ke Quan), journeys to Pankot, where they are entertained by dancing girls and the Received Pronunciation of the kingdom’s malevolent minister (Roshan Seth) before dinner is served. Since this is a barbaric corner of India, which hasn’t yet been introduced to table manners and the delights of Western cuisine, the menu includes snakes and spiders, which are slurped up with relish by the local gentry, and the piece de resistance, monkey brain soup.

Spiders and monkey brains on the menu.

The setting of the plot, based on a story by George Lucas, and the sequences of Mola Ram’s sacrificial rituals, bathed in blood red and pitch black and played out to the chant of “Rise and kill, kill for the love of Kali... kill kill kill” were inspired by older adventure movies set in exotic lands and featuring top-drawer Hollywood talent as white saviours. The strongest inspiration for Temple of Doom is George Stevens’s Gunga Din (1931). Based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem of the same name (the writer makes a brief appearance in the extended version) and featuring the dashing Cary Grant as a member of a battalion of British soldiers who stumbles upon a thugee cult, Gunga Din has its share of Oriental moments. Chief among them is black-faced American actors playing Indians, including Eduardo Ciannelli as the evil cult leader and Sam Jaffe as Gunga Din, the bishti (or water carrier) whose biggest dream is to enroll in the British Army and play the bugle for his masters. “Bugle only pleasure for poor bishti,” pleads the dhoti-wearing gent.

The trailer of ‘Gunga Din’.

The scenes of Kali worship in Temple of Doom are a direct tribute to Gunga Din, down to the mesmerised mass of men who bow down before their bug-eyed master.

Eduardo Ciannelli as the cult leader in ‘Gunga Din’.
Eduardo Ciannelli as the cult leader in ‘Gunga Din’.

Both films, despite their flagrant racism and depictions of Indian culture as savage and obscurantist, remain watchable. Gunga Din is filled with wit and superbly staged action scenes, including a memorable stand-off with an elephant on a rope bridge (the celebrity pachyderm Anna Mae) and another climactic fight on the same bridge, which has been referenced in Temple of Doom.

Spielberg’s skills with action and atmospherics serve him well in Temple of Doom, especially in the scenes set in the chamber in which Mola Ram is planning world domination. The sets, mood lighting and inventive stunts involving a Catherine’s wheel create unrelenting suspense and dread. The movie was criticised upon its release in the United States of America for its frightening and child-unfriendly visuals of sacrifice and violence.

Satyajit Ray hated the movie. He watched it in London in the mid-1980s with his future biographer Andrew Robinson. In The Inner Eye, Robinson writes that Ray watched the film impassively “except for when some particularly grotesque ‘Indian’ priests appeared – ‘A brown sacred thread,’ he [Ray] said quizzically with perhaps a tough of disgust”. The master filmmaker later said that “all but the first ten minutes of the film were ‘absolutely haywire, unbelievably bad’”.

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) finds the secret passage.
Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) finds the secret passage.

Denied shooting permission in India, Spielberg created Temple of Doom in Macau, Sri Lanka and studio lots in London. He cast Amrish Puri on the recommendation of Dolly Thakore and Shama Habibullah, who were working for producer Lucasfilm as casting directors. Puri writes in his autobiography The Act of Life that he was initially disinterested in the part. However, Thakore sent stills of Puri in the horror film Gehrayee (1980), in which Puri played a tantric priest, to Lucasfilm. A group of American casting directors arrived in Mumbai, but Puri refused to audition for them, asking them to instead visit the set of the film he was working in at the time. To his surprise, they did. Puri also refused to read out a page of text in English. “How does Spielberg know what language do I speak? He would know me as an actor,” the actor told the casting agents.

Despite his display of attitude, Puri was chosen as Mola Ram, and he travelled to London and Sri Lanka for the shoot. Once again, Puri was not impressed with his dialogue, although he did warm to Spielberg, whom he described as “very boyish, an unassuming kind of person”. Puri even went to the extent of calling Gandhi director Richard Attenborough for advice (Puri had played a small role in the biopic).

Once the production got underway, however, Puri was full of praise for the professionalism and meticulousness of Spielberg’s crew. “None of them had any ego, problems or reservations about my being an Indian,” Puri writes. He details the minute preparations that went into crucial sequences, such as the one involving heart extraction and the climactic rope bridge sequence, shot in Kandy. “Unlike many of our actors in Indian films, there was expertise at all levels, and you couldn’t just do anything and get away with it,” Puri writes.

The actor was disappointed that Temple of Doom wasn’t released in India, and that the local press criticised him and Roshan Seth for being “anti-national” for appearing in the movie. “It was a chance of a lifetime working with Spielberg, and I don’t regret it even for a moment,” Puri writes. “I don’t think I did anything anti-national; it’s really foolish to take it so seriously and get worked up over it.”

Puri says he got a hand-written note from Spielberg, calling him “my best villain” and several offers from Hollywood, but none of the roles were on par with Temple of Doom. “I was always being asked to play the Red Indian chief,” he writes. The unfortunate elision of Indian and Native American in Mola Ram’s character is best seen in his cattle skull head-gear.

Amrish Puri as Mola Ram.
Amrish Puri as Mola Ram.

Puri’s brush with the best of Hollywood resulted in an uptick in his career back home. Mola Ram cast a shadow on many of Puri’s subsequent roles¸including Mogambo in Mr India. Spielberg made two more Indiana Jones films, The Last Crusade (1989) and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), which featured stereotyped Nazi and Russian agents, respectively. Nobody does franchises, or ethnic stereotyping, like Hollywood.

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It’s the new year and it’s already time to plan your next holiday

Here are some great destinations for you to consider.

Vacation planning can get serious and strategic. Some people swear by the save and splurge approach that allows for one mini getaway and one dream holiday in a year. Others use the solo to family tactic and distribute their budget across solo trips, couple getaways and family holidays. Regardless of what strategy you implement to plan your trip, the holiday list is a handy tool for eager travellers. After having extensively studied the 2018 holiday list, here’s what we recommend:

March: 10 days of literature, art and culture in Toronto

For those you have pledged to read more or have more artistic experiences in 2018, Toronto offers the Biblio-Mat, the world’s first randomising vending machine for old books. You can find the Biblio-Mat, paper artefacts, rare books and more at The Monkey’s Paw, an antiquarian bookseller. If you can tear yourself away from this eclectic bookstore, head over to The Public Library in Toronto for the Merril Collection of over 72000 items of science fiction, fantasy magic realism and graphic novels. With your bag full of books, grab a coffee at Room 2046 – a café cum store cum studio that celebrates all things whimsical and creative. Next, experience art while cycling across the 80km Pan Am Path. Built for walking, running, cycling and wheeling, the Pan Am Path is a recreational pathway that offers a green, scenic and river views along with art projects sprinkled throughout the route. You can opt for a guided tour of the path or wander aimlessly for serendipitous discoveries.

Nothing beats camping to ruminate over all those new ideas collected over the past few days. Make way to Killarney Provincial Park for 2-3 days for some quiet time amongst lakes and hills. You can grab a canoe, go hiking or get back to nature, but don’t forget to bring a tent.

If you use the long-weekend of 2nd March to extend your trip, you get to experience the Toronto Light Festival as a dazzling bonus.

June: 10 days of culinary treats, happy feet and a million laughs in Chicago

Famous for creating the deep-dish pizza and improv comedy, Chicago promises to banish that mid-year lull. Get tickets for The Second City’s Legendary Laughs at The UP-Comedy Club - the company that gave us the legendary Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Key & Peele. All that laughter can sure work up an appetite, one that can be satiated with Lou Malnati’s classic deep-dish pizza. For dessert, head over to the Ferrara Original Bakery for mouth-watering treats.

Chicago in June is pleasant and warm enough to explore the outdoors and what better way to soak in the sunshine, than by having a picnic at the Maggie Daley Park. Picnic groves, wall climbing, mini golf, roller blading – the park offers a plethora of activities for individuals as well as families.

If you use the long weekend of 15th June, you can extend your trip to go for Country LakeShake – Chicago’s country music festival featuring Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley.

August: 7 days in London for Europe’s biggest street festival

Since 1964, the Notting Hill Carnival has been celebrating London’s Caribbean communities with dancing, masquerade and music ranging from reggae to salsa. Watch London burst into colours and sparkle at the Notting Hill Carnival. Home to Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens Museum, London is best experienced by wandering through its tiny streets. Chance encounters with bookstores such as Foyles and Housemans, soaking in historic sights while enjoying breakfast at Arthur’s Café or Blackbird Bakery, rummaging the stalls at Broadway market or Camden Market – you can do so much in London while doing nothing at all.

The Museum of Brand, Packaging and Advertising can send you reminiscing about those old ads, while the Clowns Gallery Museum can give you an insight in clown-culture. If you’d rather not roam aimlessly, book a street-art tour run by Alternative London or a Jack the Ripper Tour.

October: 10 days of an out-of-body experience in Vegas

About 16 km south of the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and St. Rose Parkway in Henderson, lies a visual spectacle. Seven Magic Mountains, an art installation by Ugo Rondinone, stands far away from the wild vibe that people expect in Las Vegas and instead offers a sense of wonder. Imagine seven pillars of huge, neon boulders, stacked up against one another stretched towards the sky. There’s a lot more where that came from, in Las Vegas. Captivating colour at the permanent James Turrell exhibit in Louis Vuitton, outdoor adventures at the Bootleg Canyon and vintage shopping at Patina Décor offer experiences that are not usually associated with Vegas. For that quintessential Vegas show, go for Shannon McBeath: Absinthe for some circus-style entertainment. If you put the holiday list to use, you can make it for the risefestival – think thousands of lanterns floating in the sky, right above you.

It’s time to get on with the vacation planning for the new year. So, pin up the holiday list, look up deals on hotels and flights and start booking. Save money by taking advantage of the British Airways Holiday Sale. With up to 25% off on flight, the offer is available to book until 31st January 2018 for travel up to 31st December in economy and premium economy and up to 31st August for business class. For great fares to great destinations, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.