Sir Denis Forman on the painful progress of India
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Sir Denis remembers a very different India in 1945 from the one he found last year. ''We used to have our own closed world, mixing only with each other - with the military, the top social class, the administrators. It was like a club. Now I see great intellectual excitement and political debate in which women play a leading part. India is trying to find its own way of solving its own problems. There was none of that before.Skip to next paragraph
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''However , although I never met those people, I'm sure they were there. I wasn't allowed to meet them, by the social system. My generation thinks of India in terms of the military and civil-service life. Today, if you go back there, you find a very democratic, active, slightly confused, rather ineffective group of people groping their way to the next move as they try to get the country to survive. Survival is what it is all about.''
According to Sir Denis, to shoot ''Jewel'' in India it was necessary to get Indian government cooperation, and that meant script approval. ''But there were only minor adjustments in items of phraseology or references to religion. The number of substantial alterations was absolutely zero.''
Although there were no problems with the weather, Sir Denis says, food was a problem. ''Here we were, a group of up to 100 people mostly from Lancashire, many very provincial, who liked kippers and sausages and black pudding. To make them happy we had to have food frozen and sent out from England by air.''
Outside of commercial success, what would Sir Denis like the series to accomplish?
''Well, first of all, I think the real test is if the finished product is satisfying to the people who strove to make it. I believe most of us feel that it hits the mark.''
Can't I coax him to say something a bit more pompous?
He laughs. ''Well, if you insist. I think that Paul Scott's perception of the relations between European and Asian races is so powerful that it will remind people of their own racial problems, even if they are different . . . in different places. In the same way 'Roots' had its effect in Europe, I believe Scott's view of the racial problems in India has relevance in Bolivia, Chile, many places.
''I believe it is a superbly acute analysis of racial inferiority and superiority and the resulting neuroses and phobias. That sort of psychoanalysis of race done by Paul Scott has universal applications . I think it has lessons for us in Britain in places like Brixton, too.''
Not long ago another British TV executive told me that he was grateful for American TV series because he was able to buy them at reasonable prices, show them in England and get very good ratings, and then use the profits to make high-quality programs he could then sell to America. In a way, he admitted, bad American TV was subsidizing good British TV. Does Sir Denisagree?
He laughs. ''Absolutely true. Without the popularity of programs like 'Dallas' and 'Dynasty,' British TV would have to make something that would attract big audiences quickly and cheaply. So I absolutely endorse what this chap said. American popular TV subsidizes British quality TV. But I don't sneer at popular TV, either. Some of it is very good.''
The interview over, Sir Denis once again escorted me to the elevator, where we said our goodbyes.
Just the other day, however, I called him in London to update his feelings about India after the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
''I think this crisis,'' he says, ''is not proving to be of such magnitude that it will shake their democratic system. India has weathered the first stage and will soon find its stability again. And I have faith that the democratic tradition will continue.''
As an Englishman, is he proud of having brought that tradition to India?
''Well, I wouldn't want to say it that way. Certainly India has adopted the Western democratic idea to serve Indians. But I never forget that most of India's political ideas come from their own culture and social traditions.''
''Jewel in the Crown'' has not yet been shown in India, and Sir Denis explains that he is at work on plans to show it on Indian television soon.
''And when it shows, I will be very tempted to go back,'' he admits. I detect a slight note of nostalgia - for the new India - in his voice.