The Fair & the Just
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Everyone at some point or another has come across the idea of the benevolent slave owner, the kind and gentle soul who was simply stuck in a system and did the best he or she could within it. That idea is a myth. A memorable example is Benedict Cumberbatch’s Ford in Steve McQueen’s memorable 12 Years a Slave, whose kindness extended to a point, a point where he couldn’t even be bothered to stop the separation of a mother and her child because he was too polite to do so. A similar mythology extends to the constructs of imperialism, where the veils of euphemisms have folded over what was often the zenith of utter brutality and dehumanization. The blanket excuses of civilization and Christianity, imbued with the bastardized tenants of Social Darwinism all came together in a hideous harmony. We haven’t gotten that far yet in Indian Summers, but hopefully we’re not that far behind. The series that began on a semi-shaky foundation of hard truths and clichéd characters and plotting has recovered quickly to become a fairly solid narrative, even if some chinks in its armor remain. The characters’s relationships to one another have become more obvious and more suitable for dramatic stakes, the plot has thickened to where certain scenes that seem otherwise benevolent suddenly take on a darkened, suspenseful tone. Having heard snippets of the series as a whole from across the Atlantic (like other PBS Masterpiece imports, Indian Summers aired in Britain during the spring), Summers transitions to a more darkened tone of a thriller and that aspect of the series is being given substantial ground here and for the better.
The colonial bureaucratic system often differed not between each colony but more between each colonial power that reflected the preferred system of government in the “mother nation.” The French system, for example, has always been more centralized than that of its often enemy across the Channel and expectedly so. This is the state that gave rise to the phrase “I am the State” from its monarch and the expectancies of absolute monarchies, after all. In its colonial structure, the French had a much more direct system of governance, with the most meager positions reserved for the native population. The British, arising from a more decentralized political system with the Parliament and constitutional monarchy, espoused a system that had less direct involvement, filling even some higher echelons of government with native populations. While both the French and British systems held an underlying principle of having the dirty work be done by the native population so the brunt of anger would fall on them instead of the native power, the British system allowed for a mirage of ascendancy to appear as reality. All one had to do was be complacent and enforce the agenda of the crown.
That is the dilemma that Aafrin so ardently faces. On one hand, the further he becomes ensnared with the quagmire that is Ralph’s existence, the more and more he is faced with the reality of what his sister Sooni was claiming about Chandru Mohan. In Sooni’s mind, a fairly valid interpretation of the events following the accidental shooting of Aafrin was that the British needed something to cover up the reality of what had occurred with a narrative. There happened to be a convenient narrative lying around, a narrative centered around Mohan being a member of the so-called radical Congress Party. Not only did that provide a direct motivation for a judicial system that wouldn’t dare question its colonial masters, it would also allow for a fairly simple addition to the imperial narrative of why the Congress Party must be kept out of power. If these radical elements are espousing assassinations, then giving them any semblance of political power was simply out of the question. On the other hand was his burgeoning position within the bureaucracy that came about as a result of him saving Ralph. His civil job, his promotion to a head clerk would shield his family financially and secure them at least a decent life compared to everyone around them. And a revolution might very well fail quite easily in comparison to the mighty British. Such a risk is something Aafrin simply can’t bring himself to espouse at the risk of betting his entire family.
The centerpiece of the third hour is the Sipi Fair, organized by the increasingly despicable Cynthia Coffin. It’s touted as a meeting of the two cultures, which is frankly the epitome of an insult considering the entire affair to begin with is less of two cultures mingling than it is one imposing itself on the other through brutal subjugation. What grand privilege, indeed. Mr. Sood makes an unfortunate name for himself by daring to note to Ian’s uncle that the property was now his. Immediately the reaction goes to a beating and nearly everyone around is astounded at not how Mr. Mr. McLeod is beating another man like a drunken, vicious brute, but at how an Indian could have dared to provoke such an attack upon himself. But even that becomes moot as Mr. McLeod suffers a cardiac event and Cynthia takes it upon herself to ensure that Ian got the land that was no longer his. The shield of privilege is astounding. Everything can seemingly hide behind it, regardless of the magnitude of crime. That, for now at least, remains Indian Summers’s most promising gift, the promise to see all of that privilege come crumbling down in a magnificent crash.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (Episode 3):
+“Something is better than nothing.”
+“Indians cannot use the mall before sundown.”
+“Well, it’s a shame, drudging it up again… In your position, I wouldn’t remember a thing.”
+“We get a tea party in front of a building where we’re not even usually permitted to be.”
+Alice working as a volunteer at the orphanage
+“Younger sisters are always the one to avoid any kind of trouble.”
+“When you go prison, you take them [your family] with you.”
+“I don’t recall much, myself, to be honest.”
+“No entry into the interior.” So much for the mingling of cultures, then.
+“You are British propaganda.”
+“Thank you for risking your life on behalf of my undeserving brother.”
+“I believe the black half tends to overwhelm, correct? A pity.”
+“So much for playing with the natives.”
+“Perhaps he strained himself during your last encounter.”
+“He’s like a damn Buddha.”
+“Find your own way. Make a contribution.”
+“This is intolerable. Even the Indian can’t stand it.”
+Aafrin stealing Chandru Mohan’s letter
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (Episode 4):
+The Indian servants bowing their heads and kneeling
+“I only wish to do my duty.”
+There was some absolutely gorgeous direction and cinematography in this episode. The tea party is a great example.
+“There are times when we must abandon our liberal principles.”
+Sooni wants to be in law, not married
+“But morally, second to none.”
+“Do you let the lie stand?”
+“We’re going to fight this.”
+Inconvenient evidence missing
+“That man is a subordinate.”
+“What did you see in her?”
+“Do I send her home or do I marry her?”
+Meanwhile, Dougie confesses his unconsummated infidelity with Leena to Sarah, who is understandably upset yet fairly unsurprised.
+Alice herself is realizing that there’s a bit more to her brother than she had presumed, which is actually surprising to her, and this road is evidently leading down to a romance with Aafrin.
Episode Title: Episode 3
Alternative Title: Ek Mele Mein (In a Fair)
Written by: Nicole Taylor
Directed by: Anand Tucker
Image Courtesy: PBS
Episode Title: Episode 4
Alternative Title: Mera Farz (My Duty)
Written by: Paul Rutman
Directed by: Anand Tucker