This film is held by the BFI (ID: 23991).


India 1947. Story of an Anglo-Indian girl, feeling rejected by both her worlds, in the conflict between her attraction for an English soldier and the love offered her by a young Sikh, as well as another Anglo-Indian.



Bhowani Junction was an American film shot on location in both Pakistan and England.  The film is based on the popular 1952 novel by British author John Masters, which was purchased in May 1954 by MGM to produce through its British production wing (MGM- Britain).  The Indian government rejected MGM’s request to shoot in India, but Pakistan proved to be more accommodating.  There are several conflicting reasons that have been cited for the Indian government’s rejection of MGM’s request.  The primary reason cited in newspapers is that the Indian government denied the request for the use of the Indian army based on the fear of mixing state and private interests (FEFN, 12 November, 1954, 11).  Ava Gardner’s memoirs present a different picture, claiming that the move to Pakistan was strictly financia l– the Indian government wanted to impose a number of taxes, including a 12% tax on global profit, but Pakistan was willing to waive all taxes (Ava: My Story, 1990, 214). In addition to the clear tax benefits of shooting in England, Bhowani Junction also took advantage of the reduced labour costs for their “cast of thousands” that is prominently featured on all of the advertisements.

After World War II the British government established a series of agreements to help bolster the British film industry.  These policies, which locked up a percentage of profits on films (“frozen funds”) in order to keep money in the country, have been criticised as policies that aided the American film industry more than the British industry.  Major American studios, such as MGM were able to take advantage of British funds by building studios in England (MGM-Britain).  For a film that utilised frozen funds and tax incentives, George Cukor and his team were limited in the number of non-British stars and crew that could be used.  In the case of Bhowani Junction, it is clear that the film brought an injection of cash, but failed to help build either the British or Pakistani film industries.  A number of Indian actresses and budding actors wrote to Cukor about working on this film, and it is evident from Cukor’s correspondence with his London liaison, Irene Howard, that he was looking for Indian actors for the film (Letter to Irene Howard, 7 January , 1955).  However, neither Indian nor Pakistani actors play any of the major roles, and the only Pakistani or Indian people seen in the film are extras.

Although it was common practice for American studios to take advantage of foreign funds and labour policies, these films seldom take up colonial subject matter within their narratives (Mogambo [1953] and The Nun’s Story [1959] are two notable exceptions).  Bhowani Junction’s narrative differs from the colonial context in which it was made, as a film that was produced after the end of British colonialism in India, but with a story focused on the end of British colonial rule.   Furthermore, as an American film about a change of leadership, the film avoids a clear position on British colonialism, and instead focuses on the American anti-Communist ideology by depicting the Communists as a violent, anti-British group.

Bhowani Junction had a large budget for its period and was internationally distributed, but it was a disappointment at the box office.  The reviews of the film noted the strength of its production design, describing how “the vast masses of humanity that figure in the bigger panoramas, the powerful effects during the railroad wreck and numerous other fine incidental but important attributes make this an exceptionally intriguing MGM release […]” (Los Angeles Times, 7 June, 1956).  Despite noteworthy comments about the scale of its production, the film was criticized for its convoluted plot (Hollywood Reporter, 4 May , 1956).  



The narrative of Bhowani Junction has two main thrusts: the melodrama of Victoria’s tumultuous affairs with three men and the narrative of political struggle between the Congress Party (Gandhi supporters) and the Communists as they both fight for control of India’s future.  These two threads are unified through voiceover narration. Original drafts of Bhowani Junction contained alternating voiceovers from Victoria Jones and Colonel Savage.  Despite the importance of Victoria Jones’ love affairs, the final version of the film is told solely through Col. Savage’s voiceover.

The only shift in this narration occurs during the Sikh wedding ceremony.  As Victoria sits next to Ranjit, there is a break in the characteristic male voiceover and we hear a series of voices reflecting Victoria’s inner conflicts about her racial identity and questioning her decision to convert to Sikhism.  Gardner’s face begins to perspire, she begins to look faint and eventually she decides to run out of the temple and back to her father on the railroads of Bhowani Junction.  Although this scene is noteworthy for its break in the voiceover perspective, it is emblematic of the way that Bhowani Junction uses melodramatic moments to address larger questions about race, which in this case is also intimately tied to political positions.

Ava Gardner’s star persona, as a beautiful, wild, alcoholic, world traveller (she lived in Spain for many years) manifested itself in various interracial, foreign, and exoticised roles that were given to her throughout her career (Show Boat[1951], The Barefoot Contessa [1954], 55 Days at Peking [1963], etc.).  Many of these roles also made her seem sexually available, and her role in Bhowani Junction is no exception. As an Anglo-Indian woman, Victoria Jones’ racial status makes her seemingly available to all of the men in Bhowani Junction.  From the very beginning of the film, Col. Savage notes both his attraction and Lt. Graham McDaniel’s (Lionel Jeffries) attraction to Victoria.  Although Col. Savage’s desire for Victoria is restrained, Lt. McDaniel (who Col. Savage later notes, had a reputation for “taking advantage of half-caste women”) attempts to rape Victoria.  This attempted rape takes place in the midst of riots surrounding Bhowani Junction and after a long struggle, Victoria kills Lt. McDaniel with a piece of debris.  The successful triumph over her rapist becomes a catalyst for her relationship with Ranjit (he discovers her and helps her hide the body), but is also characteristic of the typical roles that Gardner played. 

The ‘teeming masses’ are a constant presence throughout the film and are evident from the opening sequence.  In an early scene in which Col. Savage departs Bhowani Junction for his leave, Savage explains the Communist insurgency, patriotic protests, and passive resistance he encountered during his tenure at Bhowani Junction to his travel companion, General Agavy.  As Col. Savage explains the political situation of Bhowani Junction, the film dissolves to a wide shot of the crowded platform of the railway station and the sequence continues as a montage of crowd shots with voiceover.  This sequence is comprised of shots of various groupings, from small conversations to throngs of people, but it is clear that the emphasis in this sequence is on the teeming masses.  The movements of the camera and the movement of the crowd in each shot create a dynamic and chaotic sense of the group and defy a coherent sense of space.  The various shots of the crowd underscore the points that Col. Savage is making about the power and potential of mass resistance – Savage even mentions that arresting people does not work because it clogs up the jails.

Yet, despite the recurring presence of the crowd throughout most of the film, Bhowani Junction ultimately reduces all of the political action to a singular figure.  Throughout the second half of the film there is a secret sinister plot, and the film culminates in a kidnapping and a race to a train tunnel to prevent the Communist, Davay (Peter Illing), from blowing up a train.  Davay’s plan is facilitated by Ranjit’s mother (Sandani), but is divorced from any particular group action.  At the culmination of the scene after Davay’s death, the train rushes past Col. Savage and Gandhi is clearly visible sitting in the passenger car.  As Gandhi flashes by in the tunnel, Savage’s voiceover clarifies that this plot was in fact an assassination attempt, and that the course of Indian history could have been transformed by this terrorist act.  Thus while Bhowani Junction illustratesthe importance of the crowd as a political force, the film ultimately reduces the politics of the nation to a discussion of great men – abandoning any association with the politics of the masses.  This clear split between the beginning of the film, which works to characterise the masses, and the end of the film, which evacuates them from the narrative, reflects the distinctly American concern about the influence of Communism. 

Kate Fortmueller


Works Cited

Cukor, George, “Letter to Irene Howard – January 7, 1955,” George Cukor Collection, Folder 22 – Bhowani Junction, accessed at Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills, CA.

Eddie Mennix Ledger, accessed at Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills, CA.

Gardner, Ava, Ava: My Story (New York: Bantam Books, 1990).

Gillette, Dan, “’Bhowani Junction’ A Big and Colorful Production, “ The Hollywood Reporter, May 4, 1956.

Pani, S.S., “India Inklings,” FEFN, November 12, 1954, p.11.

Sahavela, Bapsey, “Letter to George Cukor – November 2, 1954 (from Bombay, India),” George Cukor Collection, Folder 22 – Bhowani Junction, accessed at Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills, CA.

Schallert, Edwin, “’Bhowani Junction’ Offers Big, Colorful Movie Effects,” The Los Angeles Times, June 7, 1956.




Technical Data

Running Time:
110 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
Colour (Eastmancolor)
Sound (Stereo)
9841 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries: