Chasing Heritage: 5 Films That Inspire Us To Explore India

In the latter half of the 20th century, many British directors looked towards India for inspiration; take a nostalgic journey through the films' various sites and monuments
Films and nostalgia
Films and nostalgiaShutterstock

Asleep, we see dreams projected on the screen of the mind; awake, we see dreams projected on the silver screen; we call them films. They take us to places around the world, minimising all movements. What's more, they also function as memories. The films from the past unfold as memories that are accessible. We can look at it, like photographs, and see how the world used to be. How much has changed? What remains the same? Nostalgia kicks in. The Coke bottles from ‘90s films, India from "Bharat Ek Khoj" (1988), and Delhi from "The Householder" (1963) all inspire within us a craving for different, simpler, and more iconic times.

A still from "The Householder"
A still from "The Householder"filmhistorypics/Instagram

Nostalgic For India

From the '60s to the late '80s, numerous films inspired by Indian history and literature localised in India were directed by British filmmakers and released in the United Kingdom. These films induce an intoxicating nostalgia based on different times, but you can still visit the locations they were shot. The films inspire curious viewers to explore these locations and compare them with how they looked in the movie. While the foreign lens into Indian landscapes may have made them look medieval, fortunately, many of these locations and monuments still survive for us to put in the footwork and explore.

An aerial view of New Delhi, shot in 1930. We see the President's House at the top left, the North Block, the South Block, and the Parliament House on the right.
An aerial view of New Delhi, shot in 1930. We see the President's House at the top left, the North Block, the South Block, and the Parliament House on the right.delhikaravan/Instagram

"The Householder" (1963)

Directed by the stalwart James Ivory and adapted from the homonymous novel by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, "The Householder" is based in Delhi. In black and white, the film opens with the three striped domes of Jama Masjid from a time when Delhi was all but fields scattered with medieval architecture and the rubble of history. In the film, Mehrauli is a faraway village compared to Old Delhi, where Prem (Rishi Kapoor) lives. Scant inhabitation is seen around Mehrauli, with unwalled and uncircumscribed tombs of the Delhi Sultanate. Taking "The Householder" as an old photograph, travellers can marvel at the change time has brought to these monuments and Delhi in general. It will be a stimulating exercise to stroll along these monuments and absorb the imprints of history.

Mehrangarh Fort
Mehrangarh FortWikimedia Commons

"Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures" (1978)

Written by Ruth Jhabvala and directed by James Ivory, this movie is based in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. The film revolves around two schemer friends who want to rip off an Indian maharaja's 19th-century collection of Indian miniatures. Medieval opulence comes to life, as a maharaja is involved in the film shot at Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. The fort is shown as its historic owner might have used it along with the expanse of Rajasthan's landscape and impressionable medieval miniatures. Travellers can visit the Mehrangarh Fort, which also has a museum full of ornate artefacts, and imbibe its history.

A View of the Aga Khan Palace
A View of the Aga Khan PalaceShutterstock

"Gandhi" (1982)

Directed by Sir Richard Attenborough and starring Ben Kingsley, "Gandhi" has numerous accolades to its name. The film maps out Gandhi's journey of freedom struggle on a grand scale, involving multiple locations. The film features the Aga Khan Palace of Pune, Hyderabad House, and Birla House in Delhi. Travellers can visit Aga Khan Palace and Birla House, which now act as Gandhi memorial sites and exhibit photographs, relics, and other artefacts from Gandhi's life and struggle. They are also brilliant examples of architecture. The Hyderabad House, which was employed as the office of General Smut in the film, functions as an administrative office in Delhi. It is not open to the public.


"Heat and Dust" (1983)

Directed by James Ivory and based on the novel by Ruth Jhabvala, "Heat and Dust" makes for major nostalgia when you watch it now. The film showcases Hyderabad's Charminar from 1983, with silence and minimal mobility around instead of the bustling city we see now. It also presents the British-era bungalows and lush landscapes of Andhra Pradesh. Travellers can visit these locations and wonder at the transformation they have witnessed while marvelling at the grand architecture.

Bangalore Palace
Bangalore PalaceShutterstock

"A Passage to India" (1984)

Based on the novel of the same name by E. M. Forster, "A Passage to India" is a film directed by David Lean. The film exhibits the majestic Bangalore Palace, one of the most unique palaces in India, made in the unique Tudor style. Visitors can see the dwarfing palace as they absorb the medieval grandiosity it emits. Admission to this palace is free. The film also brings forth Srinagar's tranquil landscapes, which travellers can visit to see the various Mughal gardens and rivers and get a respite at boathouses.

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