The Spectator, July 19, Professor Robert Tombs
Netflix is promoting a new pseudo-historical blockbuster. RRR, which stands for Rise, Roar, Revolt, is an Indian film which has been playing to packed houses at home. Those expecting the usual Indian crowd-pleaser featuring magic, romance, stiff-upper-lip male heroism, and improbably gory violence will not be disappointed. RRR is set in the 1920s, when India was still in the British empire. The villains are British. No surprises there. But the portrayal of the two main British characters, ‘Governor Scott’ and his wife, is unusually nasty and at the same time amazingly silly.
Among other incidents, the Scotts kidnap an Indian child and try to murder the mother. Hapless Indians are brutally tortured by assorted Brits. To portray British officials and soldiers roaming the country casually committing crimes is a sign of absolute ignorance or of deliberate dishonesty. The Indian civil service – the highest ranks of the administration – were regarded as an incorruptible elite, highly selected and dedicated to their jobs. In any case, in the 1920s, many of them were Indians: in 1929, there were only 894 British officials in the ICS. So viewers of RRR will have to imagine Indian colleagues and indeed Indian superiors sitting back and allowing rogue Brits to commit murder.Netflix should be ashamed for promoting it
If similar films were made slandering other nations, they would be regarded as crudely racist. Imagine a film showing twentieth-century Nigerian rulers as cannibals, or Hindu politicians burning widows alive. But we can’t imagine such films, because they would not be made. Yet the British have long been fair game. Usually, we shrug this off. We have played such an important role in the world over the last few centuries that we have accumulated enemies as well as friends. In many nationalist myths, we are cast in the role of villains. It’s a way that quite a few countries make up heroic stories about themselves.
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