In Memory of Amrish Puri, The man who gave
Indiana Jones his most sinister villain.
As this website’s resident
writer and researcher of adventure films, both
past and present, that have influenced or been
influenced by Indiana Jones, I have seen a lot
of movies. I have spent more than a few dollars
questing for these often hard to find films and
countless hours watching them.
Some of them are wonderful, many of them leave
much to be desired. Some of them are immediately
recognizable as deeply influential films on the
Indiana Jones series, like Secret
of the Incas. Some of them are easily seen
as obvious Indiana Jones imitators with no identity
of their own, like the 1985 version of King
Solomon’s Mines. Then there are
more than a few, like The Mummy Returns,
in which their relationship with Indiana Jones
is thin at best, being merely a fedora in one
scene or the simple fact that the characters might
be in Egypt.
My first encounters with both Gunga
Din and the Indy sequel it inspired are
as unique as these films. I grew up as a little
boy at the movie theatre in the 1980s. I was a
little too young for Raiders of the Lost
Ark when it hit theatres, but by 1982
I had my very own VHS copy and ran it to death.
In 1989, I saw Indiana Jones and the Last
Crusade at the theatre twice. It would
be 1994 before I saw Indiana Jones and
the Temple of Doom.
When Temple of Doom appeared
in theatres in the summer of 1984, I wanted to
see it desperately. I saw all the commercials
and collected all the Wendy’s
posters. I even had the cassette soundtrack. However,
it was deemed too gruesome for a boy of only six
years old by my parents, but I would finally see
the film of my own accord ten years later.
Gunga Din eluded me in a similar
fashion. I devoured adventure films from all eras
as a child, and even did a double take one lazy
Sunday afternoon in 1995 when I encountered Secret
of the Incas on the then commercial-free
American Movie Classics channel.
I had never heard of the film before, but I instantly
knew it for what it was: Indy’s inspiration.
However, the one film I actually
had heard about for years that was supposedly
a major Indy inspiration, Gunga
Din, I could not find to save my life.
No video stores had it in the 1980s, and all my
efforts to locate the laserdisc in the 1990s failed.
Then in 2000, while in film school, a friend revealed
to me that Gunga Din
was playing on Turner
Classic Movies that evening.
I couldn’t be there, but I almost went feverish
in coercing my friend to tape it for me. What
I beheld on that grainy, mono, VHS tape absolutely
captivated me as Temple
of Doom had six years before.
Of all the films I have encountered
in my research, Gunga Din is
by far the most intriguing cinematic influence
on the Indiana Jones series. While it can be argued
all day as to which film truly inspired Indy’s
hat and jacket, with the debate bouncing between
China and the aforementioned
Secret of the Incas, Gunga
Din is the only film that can boast to
having an entire adventure story that is so solid
and so exciting that it was transplanted directly
into the Indiana Jones series virtually untouched.
Certainly, Temple of Doom is
unique on many surface levels. There are no Nazis
in the film, no deserts, nor does Indy quest for
an artifact of Biblical significance. However,
beyond these obvious examples is the fact that
Temple of Doom shares a very
close relationship with a film outside the Indiana
It is my firm belief that once
the relationship between these two films is understood,
Indiana Jones and the
Temple of Doom will be more appreciated
as a true entertainment and shrug off its underdog
status to become a unique experience for Indy
Raiders of the Lost Ark
is an elegant combination of conventions from
many past adventure films. Indiana
Jones and the Last Crusade is a cinematic
echo of this original adventure. Indiana
Jones and the Temple of Doom, however,
is a sequel that establishes an identity all its
own, and a special legacy it shares only with
George Stevens’ 1939 adventure classic,
Part I: Temple of Doom
Indy’s Black Sheep
The adventure films and serials
of the 1930s were entertainments with a signature
feel and pacing. As with most films in the Golden
Age of cinema, these studio-driven productions
were mainly filmed on grand soundstages in the
studios. Entire castles, temples, and western
towns were fabricated in grand wooden and plaster
illusions. It was in this environment that Rudyard
Kipling’s famous poem, Gunga Din,
was produced for the big screen.
Gunga Din was released in 1939,
a watershed year for Hollywood, and arguably the
greatest year in movie history, seeing the release
of both Gone With the Wind and
The Wizard of Oz. The previous
year saw the release of The Adventures
of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn and the
Frank Capra classic, You Can’t Take
It With You. In other words, Gunga
Din was born at the apex of cinema’s
of Doom poster.
This epic adventure starring Cary
Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Victor McLaglen
contained the conventions of the classic adventure
film in spades. Spectacular landscapes, massive
sets, suspenseful action sequences, daring escapes,
epic battles, snappy dialogue, and a cavalier,
zany sense of humor were all contained within
George Stevens’ film.
Indiana Jones and the
Temple of Doom also contains these elements
in such a unique blend. Unlike the Indy films
on either side of it, Temple
of Doom juxtaposes an extremely serious,
dark story with zany humor, just like Gunga
Din. Raiders of
the Lost Ark is a very serious story, but
the humor is less frequent and of a much dryer
variety. Indiana Jones
and the Last Crusade is almost all humor
of a goofier nature, with a semi-serious plot
to connect the hilarious gags.
and Last Crusade
were both shot on location in deserts and exotic
exterior locales such as Venice and the jungles
of Hawaii, the bulk of Temple
of Doom’s story relied on enormous
interior sets such as the temple of Kali and the
slave mines. This reliance on fabricated sets
creates an aesthetic quite different from the
other Indy films, but very similar to classic
adventure movies and serials.
Classic adventure serials and films
also featured simple, but well-defined villains
and almost over-the-top henchmen. In Raiders
and Last Crusade, while the Nazis
as a concept define evil very well, the actual
villains of Belloq and Donovan are rather complex
nemeses with goals and ambitions that go beyond
mere domination of others. At the same time, their
Nazi henchmen, the numerous soldiers, are rather
faceless with the exception of Vogel and Dietrich.
Temple of Doom’s villain,
Mola Ram, is a true "black hat" villain
with purely evil intentions, no personal complications
or background, and certainly no formerly established
relationship with Indy, as Belloq and Donovan
did. At the same time, Mola Ram’s henchmen
are almost over-the-top characters, with the massive
taskmaster Thuggee the best example of this. These
elements of Temple of Doom make
it a truer representation of classic adventure
As evidence, look at Gunga
Din’s villain, the evil Guru. He
is also deliciously one-dimensional in the grand
tradition of classic adventure. His goal is simple:
to kill all who do not convert to Kali, and Mola
Ram’s character follows this same path.
Archibald Cutter, one of the main heroes of Gunga
Din and the one who parallels Indy the
most, has no prior relationship or association
with the Guru. The Guru’s minions are wild
fanatics with a single ringleader, who is as blindly
devoted to the Guru as the taskmaster is to Mola
These overarching narrative similarities are mainly
aesthetic and dramatic facets in the most generic
sense. Let us now take a close look at the real
details and see, in both words and pictures, how
undeniably intertwined Gunga
Din and Temple
of Doom really are.
Part II: From Din to Doom
Plot for Plot, Shot by Shot
Din and Temple
of Doom both begin with the exact same
image under the titles. As the screen fades in,
we are confronted with a massive gong and man
hitting the gong with the traditional mallet.
In both films, the heroes begin
their adventures at the end of other adventures.
Both films commence with the heroes, Archibald
Cutter and Indiana Jones, in brawls in a public
establishments. Cutter is in fisticuffs with men
at a local tavern in a dispute over being sold
a phony treasure map. Indy is fist fighting for
the antidote that will save him from lethal poison
in an upscale nightclub.
From there, Cutter and Indy, through
various misadventures find themselves forced into
the path of the Thuggee. Cutter’s commanding
officer sends he and his companions out to a village
they have lost communication with. Indy falls
out of an airplane with his companions and is
led to a troubled village as well. In both films,
the village is a place of despair, desertion,
Cutter and his friends find a strange
axe along with a fanatical group of Kali worshippers
who escape by force. Indy is told by the village
wise man of the troubles plaguing the community.
In Cutter's story, the Thuggee have emptied the
entire village. In Indy’s story, only the
children have been taken. Cutter's superior tells
him of the Thuggee cult and their apparent resurgence,
even though they were taken care of previously
by the British army some years before.
Interestingly, in Temple
of Doom, Mola Ram eventually tells Indy
that the British Army "butchered" his
people a century before. Subtracting a century
from 1935, the year Temple of Doom
is set, and you come up with a date much farther
back than when the events of Gunga Din
take place, during the late 1800s. This would
indicate that Indiana Jones' fight with the Thuggee
cult is the third such conflict to take place
in the span of a century.
Cutter learns from his loyal Indian
water carrier, Gunga Din, that there is an ancient
temple made of gold hidden somewhere in the mountains.
Hit with gold fever, Cutter schemes to journey
there. Likewise, Indy is told of the palace in
greater detail through his own trusty companion,
Short Round. He too succumbs to a lust for fortune
Indy, via a train of elephants, heads for the
palace when the evil that plagues the village
supposedly emanates from. When Cutter and Gunga
Din make for the temple of gold, they too steal
away on an elephant.
Cutter and Indy’s first glimpses
of the palaces that hold their destinies are compositionally
similar, with the structures in a forced perspective
in the background and our heroes positioned in
Once inside the palace, Indy learns
from a British officer about past dealings with
the Thuggee. Ultimately, both Cutter and Indy
learn of the past conflicts with the Thuggee from
ranking British Army officers.
Before Cutter and Gunga Din can reach the temple,
they are forced to cross a rickety rope bridge
over a deep chasm. Gunga Din tries to assure a
dubious Cutter that the bridge is safe, but upon
the first steps, Cutter almost falls through a
slat that snaps underfoot.
In the climax of Temple
of Doom, Indy and Short Round also encounter
a rickety rope bridge and Short Round, while trying
to convince the film’s heroine, Willie,
that the bridge is safe, almost falls through
as, yet again, a slat snaps underfoot.
Before Indy actually begins his
journey into the bowels of the palace, he is set
upon by a Thuggee who tries to strangle him. Earlier
in Gunga Din, while in the deserted
village, Cutter and his friends are attacked by
Thuggee. One of them attempts to strangle Douglas
Fairbanks, Jr. from behind in the same fashion
as that of the Thuggee in Temple of Doom.
It is firmly established by not only their commanding
officer, but also by the evil Guru, that the Thuggee
prefer strangulation as their method of killing.
Cutter and Indy sneak into the temple
of the Thuggee. From safe hiding places, they
witness the Thuggee ceremonies alongside Gunga
Din and Short Round.
In both ceremonial chambers, the
heroes encounter massive statues of the goddess
In the ceremony Cutter witnesses,
the Guru encourages his minions to go out into
the world for the love of Kali and kill all who
stand in their way for the glory of the Thuggee
cult. The ceremony Indy witnesses shows the horde
of minions chanting to Kali as Mola Ram personally
sacrifices a victim for Kali.
The actual look of Mola Ram is
remarkably similar to the character of the Guru,
and understandably so. There is obvious and intentional
continuity in the Thuggee leader of Mola Ram when
compared to the Guru. Both are captivating, sage-like
men with shaven heads and hypnotic eyes, accompanied
by almost psychotic smiles.
In the Guru’s ceremony, he
tells the Thuggee of their common quest to rid
the world of their detractors. Later in the film,
as Cutter’s hostage, the Guru goes into
a monologue in which he waxes poetic about his
quest to conquer all India and the world. Mola
Ram delivers a very similar speech to Indiana
Jones as he tortures him and forces him to drink
the Thuggee blood. He speaks of the Thuggee casting
down the gods of other religions and turning the
world to the Thuggee cult.
This torture sequence exists in both films. Cutter
and his friends are also taken by the Thuggee
and tortured, though not to join the cult, but
to divulge the location of the British Army. In
both films, the hero is strapped to a post and
flogged. The Thuggee also begin torturing the
heroes’ friends, and both Cutter and Indy,
despite their own pain protest the beatings of
The climaxes of both Gunga
Din and Temple
of Doom involve the escape of the heroes
from bondage. Cutter and his friends escape to
the roof of the temple with the Guru as their
hostage, all the while surrounded by the Thuggee
henchmen. Indy and his friends execute a daring
escape out of the temple, all the while pursued
by gun-toting Thuggee.
Indy’s adventure comes to
a height at the rope bridge, surrounded by Thuggee.
In a moment of blind bravado, Indy cuts the bridge
in half. Soon afterwards, the British Army arrives
to save Indy and his friends. In Gunga
Din, the Thuggee try to use the rope bridge
to escape the approaching British Army, but the
British soldiers cut the bridge while many of
the Thuggee are on it, and they plunge to their
deaths, much like the Thuggee in
Temple of Doom.
The demise of the villains is quite
similar in both films on a symbolic level. Both
the Guru and Mola Ram plummet into pits of reptiles.
Mola Ram falls from the broken bridge into a river
of alligators while trying to catch one of the
Sankara Stones. The Guru, rather than be captured
by the British Army, sacrifices himself by jumping
into a pit of cobras.
The parallels between Gunga
Din and Temple of Doom
are glaringly obvious, both dramatically and visually.
At the same time, Temple of Doom’s
screenwriters either intentionally or unintentionally,
shrewdly insinuate in the dialogue of the film
that Indy’s adventure is a sequel to the
events of Gunga Din.
The British captain tells Indy at the banquet,
"The Thuggee were an obscenity that worshipped
Kali with human sacrifice. The British Army nicely
did away with them." One could infer that
this statement refers to the actions of Cutter
and his friends.
In any case, both stories follow the adventures
of impulsive fortune seekers and their friends
as they face off against the deadly Thuggee cult
and their insidious leaders. Both films are mainly
set-driven with an off-color sense of humor and
rollicking action sequences that take place in
similar locales. This humor and adventure is accompanied
by a sinister undertone in the form of the Thuggee
and their evil intentions.
and Temple of Doom are films
cut from the same mold. I am convinced that the
adventures of Indiana Jones are incomplete in
any movie collection without Gunga Din
on the shelf beside them, for it is the prequel
to one of Indy’s greatest adventures.