I’m not the world’s biggest fan of film reviews (or of the critic field at all), so when I was asked by our Editor in Chief to review Indian Summers, I was relieved to find that it was for season two and already out on DVD.
Allow me to explain.
To paraphrase a certain big green beast (seriously, go read his article – he goes much more in depth and articulates the point better than I can): Film reviews, as they are predominantly used in the industry, are paradoxical in nature. We live in a society which abhors spoilers – and with good reason. Films are used for entertainment, and as such should be experienced in order to be fully appreciated. The role of a film review is to create a conversation about a film which at its core is inherently one-sided. The reader, by and large, hasn’t seen the film and is looking to find out if they should see it. But therein lies the problem. It’s really hard to have a conversation about something that one person knows nothing about. This means that for a review to talk about a film or television show, and still remain spoiler-free, the reviewer either has to de-emphasise the narrative, or obfuscate elements of the structure, or lie. On top of this, reviews are laden with opinion, and rarely get to the insights that are actually helpful. When I talk about film, I want to learn things. I want the conversation to be in depth and really get to the core of what the film or television show (and as an extension, the medium itself) is all about. I’m not going to call “spoilers” and recount the story, but I am going to talk about cameras, lenses, lighting, colour, sound, acting, etc.
I’ll be doing a couple articles about film or television shows on this site, but you’ll notice some distinct differences; they won’t live in the reviews section, they won’t be about a show or movie which hasn’t been out for at least a few weeks, and there won’t be “scores”. If you want to know if you should see this show, the answer is yes. The answer is watch as much as you can. Go in blind. I’m very much aware that some people like to use reviews as a pre-determiner to spending money. My articles aren’t for that. My articles are for talking about the film or show after the fact.
Much like film critique itself, Indian Summers is a paradox. It’s a mixture of gritty period piece, soap opera, and comedy. In addition to this, the things we are presented with visually are juxtaposed with what we hear, which creates an eerie feeling for the viewer. It’s also important to note that this was the grand finale for Indian Summers. The show was meant to be a five season long story, but was cancelled after season two. It has almost all the makings of a hit show, but it fell flat after only one season.
So let’s have a closer look at it.
Indian Summers is set in the summer of 1932, in the Himalayas of Northern Indian during the decline of the British Empire.
Britain still holds power in India, but India is pushing for independence. The story takes place in a city called Simla, an almost “Little-England” where powerful British socialites spend their summer to govern the area. Throughout the season we watch as these socialites clash with locals, and experience the rivalries, relationships, and ramifications of life in Simla as we witness the birth of Modern India.
I very much doubt you’ll find someone who can say anything bad about the use of colour and tone in Indian Summers. The show was filmed on Red cameras, and that obviously comes across. The colour and lighting in Indian Summers is consistently strong, and that “Red” look is persistent. The use of brief scenes with vibrant colours and atmosphere is contrasted with dark, desaturated tones to give the film (visually) a stunningly wide range of emotion. On top of this, the range of colour available was incredible thanks to the Red Epic, and as such the gritty elements that the show portrayed were echoed in the colourisation of the shadows and highlights. This wasn’t your typical summer Hollywood teal and orange colour scheme – the pallet was a brilliant mix of pastel colours and shadows which only fleetingly would hit pure black – an overall warm tone which contrasted the dark story the series followed.
So where did it fail? The show wasn’t picked up again, so something had to be wrong, right? Right. A great deal of the characterisation is stereotypical and inaccurate. Female characters are very two-dimensional and their actions are purely influenced by their relationship to the male characters. The best parts of the cast were the lead Indian characters, who were acted amazingly (and I was really happy to see how much love was put into those characters), but unfortunately they were consistently undercut by the writing and the show suffered as a whole. Overall, it is in the writing department where the show struggled the most.
Scenes were short but felt long, and this mostly comes down to the choice of shot. The show very much employed a “soap-opera” format, and as such, over-used mid shots to the point where I felt alienated and detached from the characters and the action. But this was very much intentional — the viewer isn’t positioned to connect with the characters — we’re passive watchers. What this choice also allowed for was to use size and positioning of the characters to portray power structures. You’d be hard pressed to find a scene in this show where the power of the characters wasn’t visually represented in some way or another – either through leading lines created by actor height, camera angle, size discrepancies created by character placement, and use of light to display character intent. The cinematography is impressive.
Indian Summers Season Two is available on DVD. Pick up Season One as well and watch through. Season one was paced much better and had more of a “new” feel to it. You may not be big on period piece drama – I know I’m not – but this is one show you should definitely watch; even if it is just for a masterclass in cinematography. It really does look stunning.
For more information regarding Indian Summers, check out the eOne website.