Friday, May 27, 2011

The Colonialism Double Feature: The Stranglers of Bombay and The Terror of the Tongs

I call this the colonialism double feature cause both films came on one disc and not only are they in the time of colonialism but deal directly with British perceptions of the "benighted" natives they ruled over.

"The Stranglers of Bombay," is for me the more interesting story.  It is a based on the real story of Thuggees and the man who helped bring them down.  It's been of course dramatized to become a thrilling adventure tale, but it is still very powerful.  The Thuggees were a religious sect that worshipped Kali.  One could look at them as the first terrorists as they killed thousands of travellers in India.  Not just kill by the way, but make disappear.  How's that for terror to just make people disappear.  They were broken because one British officer actually listened to the people of India and did some basic detective work.  He also managed to find people willing to give evidence on these thugs (which by the way is how we got the name "thug).

A good rousing film and if nothing else you can see where the second Indiana Jones film lifted some characters from.  I should note some modern historians believe that the Thuggee didn't really exist and were a colonial delusion based on "regular" highway men.  Now I would expect some tall tale telling from british officials in India, but when you get down to the brassiest tacks India was a business.  The ledgers don't lie (at least not with a good accountant) folks were certainly disappearing in India in a way not consistent with normal crime.  Maybe the Thuggees didn't kill millions as some have said, but I certainly do believe they existed and they were as evil as any Nazi or Al Queda thug.

"The Terror of the Tongs," is more of a problem for me.  Lots of white actors given chinese eyes and plot about a sea captain who's the only man to stand up to the evil Chinese Tongs.  It has thrilling bits, but it really dates as old.

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