‘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.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Get ready for an 80-hour shopping marathon

Here are some tips that’ll help you take the lead.

Starting 16th July at 4:00pm, Flipkart will be hosting its Big Shopping Days sale over 3 days (till 19th July). This mega online shopping event is just what a sale should be, promising not just the best discounts but also buying options such as no cost EMIs, buyback guarantee and product exchanges. A shopping festival this big, packed with deals that you can’t get yourself to refuse, can get overwhelming. So don’t worry, we’re here to tell you why Big Shopping Days is the only sale you need, with these helpful hints and highlights.

Samsung Galaxy On Nxt (64 GB)

A host of entertainment options, latest security features and a 13 MP rear camera that has mastered light come packed in sleek metal unibody. The sale offers an almost 40% discount on the price. Moreover, there is a buyback guarantee which is part of the deal.

Original price: Rs. 17,900

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 10,900

Samsung 32 inches HD Ready LED TV

Another blockbuster deal in the sale catalogue is this audio and visual delight. Apart from a discount of 41%, the deal promises no-cost EMIs up to 12 months.

Original price: Rs. 28,890

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 10,900

Intel Core I3 equipped laptops

These laptops will make a thoughtful college send-off gift or any gift for that matter. Since the festive season is around the corner, you might want to make use of this sale to bring your A-game to family festivities.

Original price: Rs. 25,590

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 21,900


If you’ve been planning a mid-year wardrobe refresh, Flipkart’s got you covered. The Big Shopping Days offer 50% to 80% discount on men’s clothing. You can pick from a host of top brands including Adidas and Wrangler.

With more sale hours, Flipkart’s Big Shopping Days sale ensures we can spend more time perusing and purchasing these deals. Apart from the above-mentioned products, you can expect up to 80% discount across categories including mobiles, appliances, electronics, fashion, beauty, home and furniture.

Features like blockbuster deals that are refreshed every 8 hours along with a price crash, rush hour deals from 4-6 PM on the starting day and first-time product discounts makes this a shopping experience that will have you exclaiming “Sale ho to aisi! (warna na ho)”

Set your reminders and mark your calendar, Flipkart’s Big Shopping Days starts 16th July, 4 PM and end on 19th July. To participate in 80 hours of shopping madness, click here.


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