It’s impossible to watch ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ today and not be stunned by its fearmongering portrayal of Indian people, although if you know the two movies that inspired it, you at least know how Spielberg is. become here.
The screenplay by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz (“Raiders of the Lost Ark” did not want to be part of this film) rushes the adventurous archaeologist into an Indian village stripped of its children. They were kidnapped and forced into hard labor by a Thuggee cult that took over a nearby palace. The Thuggee project elegance and hospitality, but we soon learn that they perform gruesome ritualized sacrifices in the bowels of the sprawling domain. They are literally villains that rip your beating heart out of your chest.
Spielberg is clearly inspired by Howard Hawks’ 1939 classic “Gunga Din,” in which three British soldiers are taught a lesson in bravery by their fellow Indian water carrier. In this film, the Thuggee are oppressive villains who must be eradicated by the civilizing force of the British military – and when Cary Grant, the greatest movie star of all time, is on the side of the British, your best interest rooting is guaranteed.
But Spielberg also draws inspiration from Terence Fisher’s “The Stranglers of Bombay,” a Hammer-produced horror adventure that depicts the Thuggee in all of his (alleged) vicious glory. There is torture, dismemberment and an epilogue with a quote from the very real Major General William Sleeman, who justifies the colonial conquest of the British Empire by saying “If we have nothing else for India, we did this good thing.”
‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ may have the exuberance of ‘Gunga Din’, but it is steeped in the wickedness of ‘The Stranglers of Bombay’. And that, unsurprisingly, did not work well in India.