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Tuesday, 7 March, 2000, 13:24 GMT
Merchant Ivory film outrage
Jaffrey and Scacchi
Cotton Mary (Jaffrey) becomes indispensable to Lily (Scacchi)
The latest movie from acclaimed duo Ismail Merchant and James Ivory is creating waves within India's Anglo-Indian community which wants it banned.

Gillian Hart, a leading member of the minority community, said she wanted Cotton Mary barred because it portrayed Anglo-Indian women as obsessed with Britain and white men.
Ismail Merchant
Merchant says all cultures have their eccentrics
The film stars James Wilby, Greta Scacchi and Indian actress Madhur Jaffrey, as Cotton Mary. The action revolves around a BBC correspondent living in India shortly after its independence from colonial rule in 1947.

The journalist is seduced by an Anglo-Indian woman. His wife meanwhile is slowly dominated by Cotton Mary who pretends to be totally British and uses her position as a housemaid in a British home to gain the respect of her peers.


Hart said she and the Anglo-Indian community had been shocked by the film, which was released in India on 25 February.

"I was outraged. I could not believe what I was seeing. The whole film is pointless and makes a mockery of us and our women.
James Wilby
James Wilby plays Lily's correspondent husband
"Even the name of the main character Cotton Mary is ridiculous. Nobody is called anything like that."

Hart, who is also a legislator in West Bengal, added that she had written to the state's culture minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya to ask that the film be banned.

Similar protests have been registered by Anglo-Indian community leaders in the rest of the country.

Anglo-Indians are people of mixed European and Indian parentage and have a long history of social exclusion in India.

Conrad Matthews, an Anglo-Indian music teacher, said the film showed his community to be "subservient, spineless and totally lacking in character".


Merchant, who is himself Indian, has reacted to the criticism by arguing that the depiction of one character did not serve as a reflection on the entire community.
Greta Scacchi
Scacchi as Lily is manipulated by Cotton Mary
"There are many eccentric characters in all religions - Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and among Parsis. So what is the big deal in her being eccentric?" he said, referring to the central character Cotton Mary.

Veteran Indian actress Sharmila Tagore has backed the director, calling him a "sensitive human being who would never hurt anybody's sentiments willingly".

She added that it was up to Anglo-Indians to promote their own considerable musical and sporting achievements and appreciate their own worth.

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