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aka The Obsession aka Possessed aka A Flight of Pigeons 1978 141’ col Hindi d/sc Shyam Benegal p Shashi Kapoor pc Film Valas st Ruskin Bond’s short story A Flight of Pigeons dial Satyadev Dubey, Ismat Chughtai lyr Yogesh Praveen, Jigar Muradabadi, Amir Khusro, Sant Kabir c Govind Nihalani m Vanraj Bhatia, Kaushik lp Shashi Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Jennifer Kendall, Naseeruddin Shah, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Jalal Agha, Benjamin Gilani, Tom Alter, Pearl Padamsee, Nafisa Ali, Ismat Chughtai, Geoffrey Kendall, Deepti Naval

Shashi Kapoor’s debut as producer is set at the time of the 1857 ‘Mutiny’ and weaves a passionate love story into the historical fresco. Javed Khan (Shashi Kapoor) is a Pathan whose wife (Azmi) has not yet borne a child. Javed falls madly in love with a half-caste Anglo- Indian girl, Ruth Labadoor (Nafisa Ali), who lives with her mother (Jennifer Kendall). After Javed’s brother-in-law (Shah) and a band of mutineers attack and massacre the English garrison, Javed takes the women under his protection. Marriage with Ruth is impossible because Javed’s family objects to the ‘English’ woman becoming Javed’s second wife. The irony is that the Labadoor family represents the Raj to the Indians even though they are equally suspect in the British milieu. In the end, Javed is killed and Ruth returns to Britain where she dies an old maid. The film touches on the complex relationships between people from three different religions (Muslim, Hindu and Christian) and from different classes as well as ethnic groups. The story opens strongly with an entranced fakir overwhelming his audience with his vision of love and war, but this is quickly overcome with acting styles that are either ‘passionate’ and loud (Shah, Kapoor) or standing still with backlit profiles (Ali, but also the older women). Although the film claimed to offer the first authentic depiction of the ‘Mutiny’ (e.g. every formal, well-drilled attack ends in bloody chaos), it sidesteps any engagement with the issues underpinning what is often described as the first Indian war of independence and opts for a colonial-sexual fantasy instead.