Feb 20, 2014

Jewel in the Crown: Gay British Officer in Love/Hate with India

When I was in grad school in Bloomington, Indiana, I watched the tv miniseries The Jewel in the Crown (1984), only because my roommate Viju had invited me to India next summer, so I was boning up on all things Indian.

It wasn't good.

The plot: in the last days of the British Raj, Indian Hari (Art Malik) is dating the British Daphne.  One night Daphne is raped, and Hari is arrested.  He goes to prison, where Daphne's ex-boyfriend, Ronald Merrick (Tim Piggott-Smith) whips and gropes him.

Gropes him?

In the ultimate humiliation, Hari tells us, Merrick put his hand "between my legs" and asked "if I was enjoying it."

Then Hari vanishes from the movie -- I guess he's released -- and Merrick is rejected by Sarah, who prefers Guy Perron (Charles Dance).  Then he rather likes a British guy named Teddy, who is killed, so he marries Teddy's widow, who happens to to be Sarah's sister.   He tortures and gropes some more prisoners, and finally Guy exposes him.

Rather homophobic all around -- the evil gay guy forcing himself on the noble heterosexual Indians.  A metaphor, of course, for the colonial occupation of India.

At least the interrogation scenes have some nice shirtless and nude shots.

Art Malik (below), who bulked up a bit after Jewel, has had a long career in Indian and American productions, including some gay or gay-friendly roles. Tim Piggott-Smith (Merrick) has also played gay roles, most notably Marco, part of the only gay couple on the 1970s Doctor Who tv series.  

The original 1966 novel makes Merrick's gayness more explicit.  His unconscious attraction to Hari fuels his hatred, and leads to his downfall.

Author Paul Scott was gay or bisexual (accounts differ) and spent his early years in India.

Many gay Europeans found colonial India "a good place," where same-sex romances were open and free.  Their experiences led to a whole genre of the European-Indian boyfriends, from Jonny-Hadji to Alix and Enak.