In the early 1980s, Ismail Merchant set out to make The Deceivers. He was without his usual collaborator, James Ivory, who was not enthusiastic about the project. The film eventually appeared in 1988, and was met by a near unanimous lack of critical acclaim. The screenplay was based on a novel by John Masters (1914-83), who had served in the British army in India before and during the Second World War. Masters's family had had a relationship with India stretching back five generations; I have been told by elderly Indian army officers who served with him in the Gurkhas that he cut a dashing figure, full of exciting tales about his participation in Orde Wingate's Chindit guerrilla. Unlike Bhowani Junction, an earlier film made from Masters's best-known novel, which had to be shot in Pakistan because of its unfavourable portrayal of Congress leaders during the Indian freedom movement, The Deceivers was shot in India, in the Rajasthani 'pink city' of Jaipur as well as other western and central Indian locations. He saw it as a tale of derring-do that focused on one of the early moral triumphs of the British in India, the suppression of 'thuggee'.
LRB 3 December 2009 | PDF Download