( David Lean was an Hollywood Legends giving us such epic movies likeThe Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago. These movies were run to packed houses in Assembly Room. So when Lean chose to shoot some of his shots for his Passage to India in the Nilgirisin 1984 it was a kind of homecoming!!!)
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway was featured prominently in the film. Of the famous train sequence, Mark Tully, the writer who accompanied Lean says, “This sequence of shots show the crew filming the Marabar Express as it journeys from Chandrapore to the Marabar Caves. In reality it is a repainted locomotive on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, that runs from Coonoor to Ooty. This location, one of the most scenic of the journey, is Adderley Viaduct. The Marabar Express is filmed crossing the viaduct at the moment when Dr.Aziz makes his way along the running board on the outside of the train to inform Mrs.Moore and Miss.Quested that they are nearly at the station for the Marabar Caves. Miss Quested is understandably alarmed to see him on the outside of the train (there are no corridors on this narrow gauge railway) but Dr.Aziz shrugs off her concerns, boasting ‘Look, I am Douglas Fairbanks’. For younger readers, I should explain that Douglas Fairbanks was a popular American actor of the 1920s , famous for his swash-buckling roles in movies such as The Thief of Baghdad, The Three Musketeers and the The Mark of Zorro.”
The movie was also shot in the St.Thomas Church, Ooty. Of this Chetan Shah, who was one of the Assistant Directors says, ‘ We were to shoot a church scene in Udhagamandalam and had to make a decision whether to transport a crowd of 50 from Bangalore and arrange accommodation for them, or to wing it with local residents. Having studied in the Nilgiris for seven years, I was able to call my local guardians and other ‘uncles and aunts’ and mobilize a crowd. On the ‘recce’ (reconnaissance), David Lean wanted to satisfy himself that the crowd had the right look and so we arranged a get together at the Ooty Club where in a rare departure from his withdrawn and preoccupied demeanour, he had to socialize and express his appreciation of my resourcefulness.’
During his visit, David Lean stayed at the Savoy Hotel. My late brother Thiagu who interviewed him at the hotel says, “Lean came to Ooty in connection with the shooting of his last film, A Passage to India. The late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi personally extended her government’s cooperation to Sir Lean to conduct shooting in India. During the shooting at St Thomas Church heavy security was provided. I had the very rare opportunity to witness his directorial touch from close quarters.
Later while shooting in Coonoor railway station, Lean shared with me his astonishment and happiness about the captivating beauty of the Nilgiris in a brief chat. He also said he was satisfied in scouting locales that were similar to those described in the novel. During the month long shooting, the huge film contingent was particular in keeping the environment of their shooing spots very clean and neat.”
Nilgiri Documentation Centre