The Tiger From Escnhapur And The Indian Tomb

The Tiger From Escnhapur And The Indian Tomb

Static Mass Rating: 2/5

Release date: April 18th 2011
Certificate (UK): U
Running time: 203 minutes

Year of production: 1959

Country of origin: Germany
Original language: German with English subtitles

Director: Fritz Lang

Cast: Debra Paget, Paul Hubschmid, Walter Reyer, Sabine Bethmann

Fritz Lang, the much celebrated director of iconic films like Metropolis, Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler and Die Nibelungen returned to Germany in the late 1950’s to begin working on his Indian epic, a three hour film that would be split in two parts, Der Tiger von Eschnapur and Das indische Grabmal.

It was an ambitious project, but it would prove to be one of the most well received of Lang’s films in his native land, but more about that later on.

The Tiger From Escnhapur/The Indian Tomb

Its story, based on Thea von Harbou’s novel, is one of adventure, romance and action as a German architect, Harold Berger (Paul Hubschmid) arrives in India after being commissioned by an Indian maharaja, Chandra (Walter Reyer), to construct a temple on his palatial grounds. Once there, Harold leaps to the rescue of Seetha (Debra Paget) who is almost attacked by a tiger.

As the dancer falls in love with the architect it of course angers the vain maharaja and in his jealous rage he seeks to wreak revenge on them both. Harold has to battle wild animals and take his chances in a maze of traps if he hopes to rescue Seetha and get out of India alive. When Harold’s sister, Irene (Sabine Bethmann), who’s also an architect, arrive to look for him, Chandra gives her no truth in his explanation for his disappearance but rather informs her that now instead of a temple, they are to build a tomb.

The Tiger From Escnhapur/The Indian Tomb

Tiger From Escnhapur and The Indian Tomb, taken as a whole, is wonderful and vividly colourful adventure film and there’s much to admire in it, including Debra Paget’s snake dance. Dressed with very little left to the imagination or modesty, she suggestively gyrates to the percussive melody beneath a towering statue commanding the attention of the cobra and the men who watch her. It’s one of the film’s most memorable sequences.

The problem with Tiger From Escnhapur and The Indian Tomb, for a film which talks a lot about the heart and soul of India, is that it actually has very little to do with India. It’s a film which boasts an international cast, yet not one the main actors are actually Indian, neither Debra Paget nor Walter Reyer, who plays Chandra with a blackened face.

The Tiger From Escnhapur/The Indian Tomb

Francis Jarman in her book White Skin, Dark Skin, Power, Dream notes some other problems during her observation:

“A lot of trouble was taken to achieve “authenticity”, but for the erotic highspot of the film, Sita’s dance, there is a sudden dramatic switch from footage shot in the venerable Jagdish Temple to a studio set of monstrous artificiality that supposedly represents the temple interior. Sita, played by the American actress Debr Paget, and wearing Thai style false fingernails and what looks vaguely like a Javanse costume, performs a dance that is itself a mixture of style: Hollywood Arabian Nights, Western nightclub, and perhaps just a few elements of Indian dance. We are back in the world of Mata Hari. The set is dominated by an enormous female idol modelled on the sensuous Buddhist art of Ajanta and Ceylon, and having no connection with the Hindu or Jain religious art of Rajasthan.”

  • Audio commentaries
  • The making of the Indian Epic (20:00)
  • Vintage 8mm footage (03:00)
  • Trailers

The success of Fritz Lang’s celebrated Indian epic works solely on the basis of its audiences being completely ignorant of Indian culture. It’s in stark contrast to films from India, made by Indian directors, starring Indian actors and featuring Indian music, such as the majestic Pakeezah (completed in 1972, although shooting began in 1958) directed by Kamal Amrohi and starring Meena Kumari, Raaj Kumar and Ashok Kumar or the record breaking Mughal-e-Azam (1960), directed by K. Asif and starring Dilip Kumar and Madhubala which both had stunning cinematography as well as authentic dance sequences which also reflected the culture, religion and heritage of a place like India, none of which Lang captures here.

Aside from those criticisms, Tiger From Escnhapur and The Indian Tomb can be viewed as light and casual entertainment but anyone looking for something that really speaks of India from Indian cinema at that time should look to filmmakers like Raj Kapoor. His films tell as much about India as Lang’s do about Germany where work like Metropolis is concerned.

Jarman, F (2005), White Skin, Dark Skin, Power, Dream, Borgo Press

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