In the trenches of the Western Front in 1915, a British army chaplain is forced to question his faith as he witnesses hundreds of Hindu soldiers risking their lives daily for the Empire.
The Dance of Shiva is an amazing film. Amazing because it tells a story that has been all but forgotten, amazing because of the array of talent gathered to tell that story and even more amazing because all this was pulled off by a director in his twenties, making pretty much his first film. The story is that of the sacrifices made by soldiers from the Indian sub-continent while fighting on the western front during World War One, and the prejudice they encountered while they served. To tell this story the director, Jamie Payne, has gathered together some of the biggest names of cinema both past and present. In front of the camera you can see Kenneth Branagh, Paul McGann, Sam West, Julian Glover and in a pivotal role Sanjeev Bhasker. They are joined behind the camera by Oscar winners cinematographer Jack Cardiff and production designer John Box. Jamie Payne has teamed them with a hole host of young talent and created what will, I believe, be viewed in retrospect as the film world's first look at a huge talent that can only grow and move onto bigger and even better things.
In the trenches of World War I, Chaplin Greville is placed in charge of the religious services for a unit that has English officers and Hindu soldiers serving together. He is initially unsure of how the men will work together - in particular how he can meet the religious needs of a group of savages who don't even know about God. However, in the trenches he is forced to see past his assumptions.
I was quite excited to see this as I had missed it a few years ago at a festival screening. The cast list alone was enough to draw my attention to it. I watched it a week or so ago when it was screened on television and I must admit that I was rather let down by it. The main failing is in the plot, it is not as interesting as the subject matter suggests it should be. The plot concentrates on the English more than the Hindus and this takes away from the supposed focus. It really should have done more to show one incident of sacrifice rather than trying to present a fuller picture in a short running time.
Aside from the specifics I found it annoying that the film simplified the history to make a film that seeks to apologise for the bad treatment that no one questions was dished out - however things did not happen like this. The Hindu soldiers deserve their story to be told, but they deserve a better film than this to do it. This main weakness makes the rest of the film even more wasteful - for the actual production is very good.
The cast is pretty good and features an early (and rare straight) role for Sanjeev Bhaskar, who does pretty well. The rest of the cast has quite a few big names in it (for a short) but they are not very well used. Branagh and McGann are both good actors but they have little to do. The production values of the film are also very high with a very realistic sense of time and place. The fact that this effort was put into a story that doesn't engage, doesn't resemble what really happened and is far too apologetic in nature rather than just letting the facts speak for themselves.
Overall, I am always willing to give any short film a try - whether it be student animation or an all star production, however this really needed more than a name cast and expensive production to draw me in. The history behind this story is far too interesting to be delivered in a manner such as this. I rarely say this about a short film, never mind a short film that had so much effort put in, but this film is not worth watching which is a shame because the production is good, the cast impressive and the actual story very worthy. a5c7b9f00b
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