'Carry On' films have a hit up the Khyber
Friday 10 January 2003
The Burpas live on. So does the camp Indian freedom fighter with rolling eyes and a patrician English accent, the Khasi of Kalabar. And so do the equally absurdly named Princess Jelhi, Bungdit Din and Stinghi.
Thirty-five years after it was made for the titillation of Harold Wilson's booming Britain, Carry On Up The Khyber – a classic of the nudge-nudge, wink-wink school of comedy that predated political correctness – is proving remarkably popular in the one country where you might not expect it to raise a smile.
It is undergoing a revival in India. Not long ago it was released on video and DVD under a distribution deal struck by Carlton International, which owns the rights, and Star Entertainment. The Times of India, generally considered a heavyweight in cultural matters, awarded it four out of five stars.
The paper is now enthusiastically promoting the film in the shopping section of its website along with a batch of other "Carry On" movies.
The sales blurb betrays at least one of its attractions for a nation of one billion people who lean heavily towards the prudish. "Buy the naughty British comedies," it says. Up The Khyber is described as a tale of "passion, greed and missing underpants set in the raging days of the Raj" which (take note, makers of The Office) typifies "the very essence of British comedy".
The success of the 1968 film, which has also been screened on Indian television, was not assured. Indian audiences have had to overlook the fact that it was shot not in colonial India but in Wales.
Nor were they too fussy about the absence of any similarity between Kenneth Williams' prancing Khasi of Kalabar and the heroes of their own history books.
But – as The Times of India's website puts it – "saucy humour" which is "full of indirect sexual expressions and deliberately raised eyebrows" has proved triumphant.
The paper is not alone in this view. "I think it is because the 'Carry On' movies are seen as a bit raunchy," said Poonam Saxena, television critic of the Hindustan Times. "They are viewed as sort of naughty, with lots of sexy fun. Indians wouldn't have accepted these kind of jokes in a Hindi film."
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