India is the story of a great friendship. Of a friendship which is so strong that it is able to overcome any adversity. Josef Hader and Alfred Dorfer, for their part, have accomplished an excellent script, perfectly combining comedy and tragedy, in a deep and never predictable reflection on life, death and the importance of interpersonal relationships.
Enemies or friends?
One of the greatest Austrian cult films of all time, India – directed in 1993 by Paul Harather – was in its time submitted by Austria to the Oscars as Best Foreign Language Film. Yet, even though this feature film did not make the shortlist, it still has remained in the hearts of Austrians today. Written by and starring the comedy and cabaret duo Josef Hader and Alfred Dorfer, India was based on a play they had previously written. Paul Harather’s direction later made its part.
And so, this singular comedy with dramatic and road movie overtones not only made Hader and Dorfer famous, but also featured in its cast names that would later become particularly famous in Austria: from Karl Markovics (who at the time was still filming the first episodes of Inspector Rex) to Maria Hofstätter (here for the first time on the big screen).
The story staged, then, is that of Heinz (Josef Hader, precisely) and Kurt (Alfred Dorfer), two hygiene inspectors who for the first time undertake a trip to check out some hotels and inns outside Vienna. The two initially seem to us to be the opposite of each other: if Heinz is a grumpy, taciturn bourgeois, addicted to alcohol and smoking, Kurt, on the other hand, immediately seems much more naïve and health-conscious, as well as extremely chatty.
Yet, after all, the two of them are not so different from each other and, during their journey, they will discover that they have a lot more in common than it might initially seem, becoming best friends. Yet their lives, somehow, will soon take a completely unexpected twist.
India is, then, first and foremost, the story of a great friendship. Of a friendship that is so strong that it is able to overcome any adversity. Josef Hader and Alfred Dorfer, for their part, have created an excellent script, perfectly able to combine comedy and tragedy, in a deep and never predictable reflection on life, death and the importance of interpersonal relationships. And so, during the film, the audience passes easily and naturally from laughter to tears, finding time – between one gag and another, between a paradoxical situation and some furious quarrels – for much deeper reflections.
Particularly striking in India is the moment when the two protagonists dance, free and happy, at sunset, on an isolated country road and to the notes of an Indian melody. And, in fact, numerous elements in the film refer precisely to India – as the title itself suggests. Kurt himself, for instance, considers India almost as a myth, feeling it as close as ever to his way of considering life. It is just a pity that he has never been to India. And then, last but not least, there is the idea of reincarnation, here, in fact, considered in a much more metaphorical way, causing the very journey of the two protagonists to take on, little by little, a strongly symbolic meaning.
And suddenly, what seemed to us to be a light and – although generally enjoyable – unpretentious comedy turns into something much deeper and more complex. And it is precisely at this point that Hader and Dorfer’s script becomes even more strong and layered. And Paul Harather’s direction – justifiably no-frills and essential to the point (although, at times, a little TV-like) – proved to be perfectly appropriate for staging the bizarre vicissitudes of Heinz and Kurt.
All this made for a film that justifiably impressed itself in the collective memory and in its own way successfully combined an art particularly widespread in Austria – that of cabaret – with cinema itself. A sign that Austrian cinema as far as pure entertainment films were concerned was perfectly capable of drawing heavily from what had been made in the past, while maintaining a curious and attentive gaze at the new. And it was still some years before the birth of the so-called Nouvelle Vague Viennoise. But that’s another story.
Original title: Indien
Directed by: Paul Harather
Country/year: Austria / 1993
Running time: 90’
Genre: comedy, drama
Cast: Josef Hader, Alfred Dorfer, Maria Hofstätter, Roger Murbach, Ursula Rojek, Karl Markovics, Linde Prelog, Karl Künstler, Wolfgang Böck, Proschat Madani, Rupert Henning, Christian Weinberger, Ranjeet Singh
Screenplay: Paul Harather, Josef Hader, Alfred Dorfer
Cinematography: Hans Selikovsky
Produced by: Dor Film