The year is 1947, and the British have decided to withdraw from India. That means Colonel Rodney Savage (Stewart Granger) will be returning to England. As he boards his train, he receives a smooch from Victoria Jones (Ava Gardner).
After boarding, he talks with a fellow passenger, recounting the details of his stay in Bhowani Junction and telling the story of how he met Victoria.
Savage arrived in Bhowani Junction at the height of the tension between the Indian Congress Party and the British government. Victoria was returning from her own travels, having just served several years in the Women’s Auxiliary Corps of the Indian army.
It would have been a simple romance — immediate attraction and a swift fall into love — but the complicated political situation made their start a rocky one, with Savage working against the independence-seekers, while Victoria sympathized with them.
Life is made even more complicated for Victoria by the fact of her own Anglo-Indian heritage. As tensions grow and protests flare up in the region, Victoria grapples with her identity, her dueling cultures, and her future.
Bhowani Junction was directed by George Cukor. The film was written by Sonya Levien and Ivan Moffat from a novel by John Masters.
There’s an interesting political context to this film, explored through the microcosm of Victoria’s identity crisis. It’s a story of the struggle between Indian independence and British occupation.
While the casting of Ava Gardner in the role of an Anglo-Indian woman is problematic by modern standards, the film makes an important commentary on the treatment of multi-ethnic people by both the British government and the pro-independence faction. Gardner gives a wonderful performance in this film, full of angst and confusion, and never shying away from the character’s conflicted feelings regarding her identity.
The film is also beautifully photographed (shot on location), with a dash of suspense snuck in at the end, and a love triangle that complements the storyline of Victoria’s inner turmoil rather than distracting from it.
The one real problem I had with the film was the fact that it is framed through narration by Savage. I didn’t particularly care for Savage as a character, and didn’t think his perspective as a narrator added much to the film, other than to clarify some of the complicated political issues facing the country at that time.
Still, on the whole, I found Bhowani Junction to be a very interesting watch, and a unique entry into the filmography of Ava Gardner. It’s worth a look, especially for Ava fans.