| Heath Ledger and Kate Hudson in The Four Feathers. (Reuters)
Washington, Sept. 22: Close on the heels of Manoj Night Shyamalan’s record-making Signs and the flutter at this year’s Oscars over Lagaan, the spotlight is once again on India in North America’s box office this weekend.
The reason: Paramount Pictures has released The Four Feathers, a Shekhar Kapur-directed period epic tale about a 19th century British soldier on a quest for redemption after being branded a coward.
The film, which had its world premiere earlier this month at the 27th Toronto International Film Festival, is making ripples: as much for its celluloid qualities as for the raw sensitivities it has touched.
Add to this, the director’s penchant for controversy, and The Four Feathers promises to be a volatile cocktail within North America’s entertainment industry.
Kapur ruffled a few feathers when he told the media in Canada during the Toronto festival that his latest film was meant to question the morality of colonisation and the impact it still has on the world.
Three days before the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, he broke the barriers of political correctness by saying: “I firmly believe the root causes of the terror that we are facing today are built in the colonial history of this world. If you don’t learn from history, you don’t learn at all.”
Film critic Elvis Mitchell wrote in The New York Times this weekend. “This director would appear to be an ideal candidate to oversee a remake of Feathers, with his penchant for showing how personal politics fit into institutional cruelty, as he did so elegantly in Elizabeth and The Bandit Queen. But Feathers so grandly plays out the imperialist fraternity of the British army that it is as if Mr. Kapur were making a commercial for a way of life that no one misses. If he wants to underscore the macho superficiality of the traditions, the point could have been made much faster.”
Comparing six earlier cinematic versions of The Four Feathers, a novel by A.E.W.Mason, to Kapur’s new offering, Stephen Hunter wrote in The Washington Post that “the bigger changes are threefold, all in the spirit of political correctness. First, a man of colour has been added... .Second, the Dervishes are given credit for a tactical subtlety that they lacked in the original. They aren’t just peasants hell-bent on a trip to the 76 virgins of paradise...And third, Kapur has removed the movie from history.”
Associated Press film writer Ben Nuckols alleges that “Kapur betrays his lack of interest in representing Englishness in any convincing way by casting an Australian (Heath Ledger) and two Americans (Kate Hudson and Wes Bentley) in the lead roles. Their accents, so thin and casual, invite scorn.”
He writes of the movie as “a war epic for 15-year-old girls, the dunderheaded saga of a dreamboat who loses his courage and his girl, fights to win them back, succeeds and, unfazed by it all, goes back to being a dreamboat again...Kapur's cinematic assuredness has eroded in the nearly four years since his last film.”
Critics fear that notwithstanding the controversy Kapur’s new film has created, it may fail to appeal to a broad audience in view of its subject set in colonialism. They point out that Kapur’s last film, Elizabeth, although critically acclaimed, managed to mop up only $30 million at theatres.