The Tiger of Eschnapur thrives on the idea that an accurate representation of India is not worth worrying about

Kuzhali Manickavel

Jan 10, 2020 09:38:18 IST

'Allegedly Problematic' is a monthly column by Kuzhali Manickavel, which takes a cheeky look at literary/cultural offerings from the past that would now be considered, well, problematic — and asks, 'But are they really?'.

Read more from the series here.


Read part 1 of this column.

Here we are with the second scrumptious instalment of this super-spicy column! Just to recap, in our last column, we did not talk about fascism. Instead, we discussed a movie called The Tiger of Eschnapur, which came out in 1959 and was directed by Fritz Lang. Because I was young and reckless back then, I carelessly stated that I would watch this movie and report back. I regret to say that I could not make it through the entire film. But that’s not going to stop me from making snarky comments on what I did manage to see. Here we go!

— While I was not surprised to see the brownface (and there was A LOT of brownface), I was surprised at how shiny this brownface was. And that made me think of how one doesn’t usually see things which are brown, shiny and offensive.

— This was a movie about a made-up Indian place, so obviously it was filled with white people. And all of them were in brownface. Maybe you’re thinking, wow that’s a lot of brownface! Wouldn’t it have been easier to just get actual brown people? No. One must never compromise on artistic integrity. Ever.

— I will make this point as brief as I can. There’s a dancer. Who dances for the goddess. Whose name is Sheeva. Who has an extremely ample chest. I don’t know what more I could possibly say about that.

— You have probably guessed that there is a temple in this movie. There is also something really special living under the temple. Can you guess what it is? It’s LEPERS! There are lepers living under this temple. To be honest, they looked more like the living dead. But apparently, they were lepers. LEPERS, you guys!

 The Tiger of Eschnapur thrives on the idea that an accurate representation of India is not worth worrying about

Stills from The Tiger of Eschnapur

Still from The Tiger of Eschnapur

— This movie makes it very clear that the Indians are the bad guys and the Europeans are the good guys. The bad Indians don’t like anything European because that’s just what bad Indians do. So what are we to make of Seetha, our heroine? The alleged temple dancer who is not displaying any Indian culture when interacting with the hero? Well apparently her father was Irish. But more importantly, the hero white guy tells her to look at her reflection and says ‘Look at your face! You’re not Indian!’ Which I think means, see? You’re not one of them, you’re one of us! Which, as an Indian, I thought was a bit rude. I mean, I think I’m an Indian. If I’m not then I guess I’m not too bothered actually.

— Which brings us to the dancing. I understand that the role of Seetha was basically an excuse to show some skin in the name of ethnicity and get a girl to shake her moneymaker. I guess if I were a white dude, I would have been ethnically seduced by it. Not being a white dude, I thought it was hilarious. So I’m sorry for that.

— Another thing that happened was the hero white guy asked an Indian guy something. And the Indian guy answered, “Who knows which way the bird has flown? Or which way blows the wind?” when he could have just said “I don’t know.” Guess this is why we got colonised y’all.

It behooves us to pass lightly over the hysterical tiger fight and a number of other things because I have to end this column at some point. So fam? Is this movie allegedly problematic? Well, it’s definitely stupid. And while wading through all that heavy-handed exotica, one can’t help but feel that sometimes, India only seems worth talking about if the story-teller gets to make up their own version of India. Many stories, like this one, thrive on the idea that an accurate representation of India is not worth worrying about. Especially when your idea of India is way cooler because it has more tigers and stuff in it. And perhaps that is problematic? Maybe? Probably not though, because I don’t think it’s ok to say things like that about these kinds of movies. So we won’t.

In our next column, we are going to whine about a movie called Black Narcissus! Can’t hardly wait you guys!

Kuzhali Manickavel is the author of the short story collections 'Insects Are Just like You and Me except Some of Them Have Wings' and 'Things We Found During the Autopsy', both available from Blaft Publications

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Updated Date: Jan 12, 2020 10:25:21 IST