Like a great looming shadow, so is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It's impossible to write a blog on Hindi movies without mentioning the film a kabillion times - if only because of its outrageously offensive Orientalism, and the fact that Amrish Puri is in it. Yesterday, after a full-on Harrison Ford bonanza of film-watching, which included much of the Star Wars sixology as well as the underwhelming What Lies Beneath, we watched Temple of Doom. It was like the "oogledy boogledy!" icing on a crazy cake.
The last time we had seen it, we were young, impressionable Harrison Ford worshipers who didn't worry about things like Orientalism and just focused on how glistening his biceps were. Now, older and wiser, we can say: his biceps are so shiny! And his chest...! Ooh, la la.
Many apologies. This is a SERIOUS review about a SERIOUS problem: the wrongness of Temple of Doom. Because, as one of our viewing companions noted, if the government won't let you film in their country because your story is too racist and your top-choice screenwriter refuses to work on it because he finds it "ugly and mean-spirited", maybe it's time to rethink the story? Apparently not, Spielberg and Lucas decided.
In Temple of Doom, which could be titled Indy Takes On Asia, we follow the continuing adventures of Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, He of the Heroical Jawline), archaeologist, adventurer, stud. The story opens in China, where, after an unfortunate run-in with some Shanghai-based gangsters, Indy is almost poisoned to death, but saved by his sidekick, Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan), and an antidote buried deep in the bosom of the blonde, vacuous Willie (Kate Capshaw, a self-proclaimed feminist - who knew!). Boarding the first plane they find, they fly off into the Himalayas, where the evil pilots parachute away, leaving them in charge of a plane without fuel. (An expensive way to kill someone, but no matter.) Indy and the gang are saved by the cunning use of an inflatable raft.
A KEY SCENE for worshipers of Harrison Ford's body. For the love of Harrison Ford, LOOK at that arm! That jawline!
After careening down the Himalayas, they flop into a river (the Ganges?!) and are swept into a poor, starving village. The despairing villagers inform Indy that one of their Shiva lingam stones has been stolen by the dastardly residents of the nearby Pankot Palace. Indy et al. assure the villagers that they will get their lingam back. After meeting the bespectacled, Anglicized "Prime Minister" of Pankot (Roshan Seth... who else?), eating monkey brains, beetle bums and snake-filled-with-snakes, the gang gets lost in the labyrinthine palace cellars. There, they witness a thundering, blood-smeared Kali worship session, complete with human sacrifice and Amrish Puri (yay!) in a feathered headdress. They also witness child slavery, and this is clearly not gonna fly. So after a very, very long and violent denouement, Indy gets the lingam back, curses Amrish Puri in his own Hindi ("Tum vishwas karte ho!" Harrison seethes, again and again), frees the children and manages to boost the village's agricultural yields in the meantime! Who needs the World Bank and Amnesty International when you've got Indy!?
One tiny point in this film's favor on the Sensitivity Scale was the moment when Indy, Willie and Short Round are welcomed to the village. Fed some paltry curry on a banana leaf, Willie refuses because it looks gross, and Indy starts to lose his patience: "This is more than these people eat in a week. Eat it. You're offending them and embarrassing me." We've actually faced some similar situations before (minus the demonic cult bit), and it's actually a nice little moment showing the inadvertent offensive behavior people can have, especially in places of poverty.
But that moment of enlightenment feels more like an accident than anything intentional.
When we go to India, we want (1) to have Roshan Seth greet us in spectacles with "PPCC, the eminent blogger?" and (2) chilled monkey brains for desert.
So: were we really offended by Temple of Doom? Is it really so SERIOUS? Its outrageously unrealistic representation of India is about as outrageously unrealistic (and in the same, zany, mish-mash aesthetic!) as the representations of the British in masala films like Mard or Kranti. A key difference is that, with confident and optimistic American-centric machismo, Indy just wants to help these poor north Indian folk... speaking not-Hindi... in a palm-treed village... by the Himalayas. That - this fuzzy feeling of wanting to help people - is already a lot more palatable for the PPCC than the underlying anger of Mard and Kranti, which uses the real historical problem of colonialism to make a film filled with racist violence and mutual ridicule. Of course, silly, racist Hollywood films and silly, racist Hindi films will probably have different tones (optimistic vs. pessimistic racism?) given the different historical contexts. Or are we being silly and racist?!
After all this talk, we weren't really personally offended by Temple of Doom. We knew what we were getting into. Because not only is it ignorant and, well, stupid, but it's also just bad. It does itself damage by the ridiculousness of its premise and presentation - over-the-top even for Indy! - and we're pretty confident that anyone of average intelligence who is older than 12 will recognize that you can't get your ideas about the world from the Indiana Jones series. Trying to apply logic or subtlety to Indy is like trying to make cheese ice cream: it's just not gonna happen! It won't work! What's more important is: does the stupidity and racism of Temple of Doom have possibly damaging consequences in real-life? We at the PPCC don't think so - apart from feelings of annoyance, like the caricatures of Americans in Karan Johar films - we trust in people to know that Indy is not really a good guide to the world. Are we too optimistic? Are we too optimistic because we're white? Do we sound like Harrison Ford when he speaks Hindi ("Row-kow!"
he tells people when he wants them to stop)? We'll let the reader लोग decide.