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ENGLISH, AUGUST

India, 1994 (MIFF 1995)

Director: Dev Benegal

Dev Benegal's blackly comic story of a mod­em, English-speaking, city-born young Indi­an who comes up against a different India when he works as a trainee civil servant in a small rural town.

Based on the novel English, August-An Indian Story by Upamanyu Chatterjee, the film traces a watershed year in the life of twenty-something Agastya Sen, an 'English type', more familiar with Marcus Aurelius than the Upanishads. A reluctant bureaucrat, he is sentenced to a twelve month posting in Madna, the hottest, backwater town in India, and August wants out. Benegal, having just returned from a cinema studies course in an American university, became fasci­nated with the novel. "The book is about not having to be a foreigner to feel alien in India, it makes you question the concept of Indianness. I could relate to the Agastya Sen's experience. The main problem was how to translate the book to screen, since much of it unfolds in the mind of a protagonist who does little more than smoke marijuana and masturbate. We used voice-overs, conversations with the camera and sound montages to convey what was taking place in Agastya's head. But, yes, initially many felt it was an unfilmable novel."

With a strong cast, Senegal's debut is convinc­ing and assured as he handles cultural diaspora, petty bureaucracy and the reality of modern India with wicked, irreverent humour.

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