"I haven't done enough films not to be very fascinated by the extraordinary deception that filmmakers have to practice," says Dame Peggy Ashcroft. "And David Lean is a master of the magic."
She revealed some surprising facts about the making of "A Passage to India":
"Where we shot the Marabar caves, for instance, was not the Marabar caves that [E.M.] Forster wrote about. And what I can't tell you is whether the Marabar caves of his novel exist in India. [According to the Indian Embassy, they do not.] In any case, Forster is writing about the India of the Ganges, which is in the north, and we were shooting in the south.
"Our locations, most of them, were sets built in a huge maharajah's palace garden. Because it wouldn't have been possible, for instance, to shoot a bazaar in a modern Indian village or town; you couldn't approximate it to the 1920s now. So they made this amazing bazaar in the garden. Also, the mosque where Mrs. Moore first met Aziz was built in that garden. The construction work was pretty remarkable.
"The Marabar caves were a very odd mixture, because we used to drive out about 40 miles from Bangalore to this village which was on the plain where these great granite eruptions exist -- half mountains, half hill. I used to call it Henry Moore land, because it was like a series of Henry Moore sculptures -- extraordinary. And up and among those granite hills was a granite saucer just like Forster describes -- very, very hot -- and that's where the arrival takes place, where we enter the first cave.
"But of course it wasn't a cave. It was just an opening that they'd asked permission to blast out. Some people objected to it, but the government had given permission to blast, and it was only a shallow recess, just about from here to that window a few feet , which we disappeared into. Then the interior of the caves was shot in a studio in London.
"For instance, Mrs. Moore's breakdown in the cave, when the people were pressing up against me, was shot in the studio in London. And those were London Indians. They had to match up into the costumes the India Indians had worn in the village, because we had had locals from the village who all came up with their children, which was wonderful. They were such a lovely lot of people.
"Then the journey to the Marabar caves was in an entirely different location from the picnic at the Marabar caves. We traveled 500 miles further south to where we did the level crossing scene, when Fielding misses the train. The train was this very remarkable mountain railway which climbs 6,000 feet to Kunoor."
Did Victor Banerjee really hang off that train over the breach?
"Yes, he did. He did," says Ashcroft with a shudder. "They promised him a harness, but he reckoned it would be worse if he fell with a harness over that abyss. He did do it. I could hardly watch it. He never let on at all that he found it scary but did admit to being very thankful when it was over. Because, you see, you don't just do it once. They shunt the train back and do another take. And it was something like a 3,000-foot drop, sheer, from the train.
"But it is a wonderful shot, isn't it!"