The British Embassy threw a party last night for the Washington premiere of David Lean's "A Passage to India," and Lady Marjory Wright perhaps said it best:

"One feels one knows about India," she said, "without necessarily having been there. It seems to be a year of India."

Defense secretary Caspar Weinberger explained it like a military man: "India has always been in a strategic position and I think it will always be in that position."

Judging from the turnout, Washington could hardly wait to see the highly publicized movie. "A Passage to India" has already received the New York Critics' Circle Award for best movie and Lean has been given the critics' award for best director. Time magazine gave "Passage" a cover.

The pre-movie party drew several hundred guests, including Roger Mudd, Roger Stevens, Katherine Shouse and S. Dillon Ripley. Even the Wrights' dog, a half-Labrador, half-French poodle named Leonora, showed up. Ticket prices ranged from $25 to $200, depending on whether guests attended the party. Proceeds will benefit Sasha Bruce Youthwork, an agency for runaway, homeless and troubled teen-agers. The late Sasha Bruce was the daughter of Evangeline Bruce, who is vice chairman of the agency's board of directors and greeted guests at the embassy.

After shrimp and ham hors d'oeuvres, guests were taken to the Uptown Theater in double-decker buses to see the nearly three-hour-long movie.

"Look at that movie 'Gandhi,' " said guest Billy Hunter. "Everything about India takes a long time."

Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige didn't think this year necessarily had to be declared the year of India. "I think we've been fascinated with India for some time."

Baldrige said he thought American investments in India looked better than ever, despite the death toll at Bohpal involving Union Carbide. "With the recent memorandums I've seen on technology transfer, I think there's an expectancy. Every developing country is trying to increase technology. One can't go by one tragedy."

CIA Director William Casey didn't want to talk about India. In fact, he didn't have time for the movie, because he had another party to go to. His weekend, he said, looks "crowded," a sign of these inaugural times.

Chief of Protocol Selwa Roosevelt also had to leave early -- for a dinner at the Italian ambassador's residence.

Instead of "ta-ta," she said, "I'm on my way to start the inauguration."

British Ambassador Sir Oliver Wright said he "expects to catch pneumonia for the Cause on Monday."

Added Baldrige, "I noticed some people think that there's been some burnout in their jobs, but I'm just getting warmed up."