Heat and Dust: Merchant-Ivory Film, Starring Greta Scacchi and Julie Christie


James Ivory’s Heat and Dust is composed of intertwined stories about two Englishwomen living in India more than fifty years apart.

In 1923, Olivia (Greta Scacchi) shares an uninspired marriage with Douglas Rivers (Christopher Cazenove), an English civil servant in the colonial India of the 1920s, which leads to her embarking on an affair with Nawab of Khatm (Shashi Kapoor), a romantic but decadent minor Indian prince.

In 1982, Anne (Julie Christie), Olivia’s grand-niece, travels to India to unravel the mystery of Olivia’s life, which her family regarded as “something dark and terrible.” While there, Anne discovers—and then seems to repeat—the scandal that her independent-minded ancestor caused two generations before, prompting Anne to re-assert her own independence five decades later.

Anne discovers some letters written by her late greataunt Olivia that inspire her to travel to India to research her aunt’s shadowy past. As Anne begins her investigation, Olivia’s life is revealed in flashback.

In 1923, during the British Raj, Olivia, recently married to Douglas Rivers (Christopher Cazenovel), a civil servant in the colonial administration, has come to join her husband in Satipur central India. While the prejudiced British community and Anglo-Indian society seems to have little to offer a bored Olivia, she is slowly enthralled by India itself.

Political intrigues and a rash of robberies prompt an invitation of the Anglo-Indian officials and their wives to a lavish dinner party at the palace of Nawab of Khatm, the ruler of a neighboring princely state. At the dinner, Olivia attracts the romantic eye of the Nawab and the friendship of one of his associates, Harry (Nickolas Grace). Later, when Harry falls ill in the midst of the intense summer heat, Olivia comes often to visit him at the Nawab’s palace. In short order, the Nawab seduces Olivia and the two engage in an illicit affair.

Following in Olivia’s footsteps, Anne comes to Satipur to live in the same surroundings that framed Olivia’s story more than fifty years earlier. Staying as the guest of an Indian family, Anne has the head of the household, Inder Lal (Zakir Hussain) who lives with his wife, children and mother, serve as her guide while she tries to get connected with the world in which Olivia lived. Anne also befriends Chid (Charles McCaughan) an American would-be convert to Hindu mysticism who tries to seduce Anne, but is firmly rebuffed. Inder Lal, meanwhile, finds himself increasingly attracted to Anne, who eventually invites him into her bed.

Things get complicated for Olivia when she gets pregnant, a development she communicates to Douglas and the Nawab, both of whom welcome the news. Douglas, unaware of his wife’s infidelity, wishes for a son as blond as he is. The Nawab, for his part, does not doubt that he is the father and is overjoyed, particularly as he is in the midst of being deposed by the British, and he sees having a mixed-race heir as the ultimate revenge. Suspecting that the Nawab is the child’s father, Olivia has an abortion in secret, pretending to have a miscarriage, a ruse that is discovered when she continues to bleed and is admitted to the local hospital. Olivia runs away from the hospital early in the morning, eloping with the Nawab to Kashmir and leaving Douglas broken-hearted, though he eventually remarries.

Like Olivia, Anne gets pregnant and also decides to get an abortion, but backs down at the last minute and soon leaves behind the heat and dust of Satipur. Asserting her own independence, she travels to the snowy mountains of Kashmir where Olivia spent her last years in solitude, seldom visited by the Nawab. Anne plans to bear her child in a nearby hospital.

Cohen Media Group proudly presents the 1983 Merchant Ivory production Heat and Dust in a brand new 4K scan and restoration from the original camera negative and magnetic soundtrack, and featuring a new 5.1 audio mix from the stereo 35mm mags, all approved by director James Ivory.

Adapted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala from her own Booker Prize-winning 1975 novel, Heat and Dust is the story of two Englishwomen living in India more than fifty years apart. Heat and Dust is part of a notable cycle of film and television productions to emerge from the UK and USA during the first half of the 1980s reflecting Britain’s growing interest in the British Raj, which officially ended in 1947.

In addition to Heat and Dust, there was Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982), David Lean’s A Passage to India (1984), and the TV series The Jewel in the Crown (1984) and The Far Pavilions (1984), all of them commercially successful, critically lauded award-winners. (One could even include the 1983 James Bond adventure Octopussy on the list!) While all of the productions tried to highlight some aspect of the cultural contrasts between the East and the West, Heat and Dust uniquely takes the idea one step further, moving between both the vibrant society of modern-day India and the magnificent splendors of the British Raj, finding the passion, violence, mystery and beauty embodied by both worlds.

Merchant Ivory Productions had been in existence for more than two decades and made some 20 shorts and features around the world when they decided to produce Heat and Dust. Producer Ismail Merchant wanted “not only to celebrate our twenty-one years together, but to unite all three of us again in India, as in *Merchant Ivory’s 1963+ The Householder—but with a much larger theme, and, I hoped, with much more money.”

After Hollywood passed on funding the film, Merchant secured backing in England with a budget of £2.2 million. Unfortunately, halfway into the production some of the expected financing failed to materialize and Heat and Dust ran out of money, leading to a brief period where the cast and crew continued to work despite not being paid. Salvation came in the form of prominent investment banker Sir Jacob Rothschild, who had for years played a prominent part in Arts philanthropy in Britain. After watching some of the film’s dailies, Rothschild provided the funds to complete the film, which was shot on location in the Indian states of Telengana, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, and also in the Kashmir region from February through April, 1982. Additional footage was later shot in Surrey and London in England.

Heat and Dust was released theatrically in the UK in January, 1983, and later played at the 1983 Cannes Film Fest.

It became a modest art house hit in Europe, particularly in England, but didn’t fare as well in the U.S., where it was released in September, 1983. But, most importantly, Heat and Dust became Merchant Ivory’s biggest commercial success up to that date, marking a turning point for the company in the international arena and heralding the successes of their subsequent films, led by the U.K. production A Room with a View (1985) a couple of years later.

For her screenplay, Jhabvala received both Britain’s National Film Critics Award and the BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay, one of the film’s eight BAFTA nominations, which also included Best Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography.

Heat and Dust remains a stunning and literate period portrait, maintaining a carefully mounted balance of visual splendor alongside the understated ironies of the human experience, a cinematic philosophy that is the essence of the fifty-year collaboration of filmmakers Ismael Merchant, James Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.



● 4K restoration from the original camera negative and magnetic soundtrack held at the archive of the George Eastman Museum

● Scan and digital restoration completed at Cineric US and Cineric Portugal

● 5.1 audio track restoration at Audio Mechanics (Burbank) from the original 35MM magnetic track, also held at the George Eastman Museum

● Color grading by Technicolor (Paris) overseen and approved by director James Ivory

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