In this Merchant-Ivory production, the story switches between past and present as Anne (Julie Christie), an Englishwoman living in India, attempts to discover the nature of the scandal that surrounded her great-aunt (Greta Scacchi) sixty years before. The two women's lives begin to mirror each other as Anne's search through the past intensifies.
Director James Ivory's Heat and Dust
tells two parallel stories set in India, one in the present and the other in the days of British rule. In 1920s India, a young English bride, Olivia (Greta Scacchi), finds herself in a passionate, forbidden affair with the local Nawab (Shashi Kapoor). In the second story, Olivia's great niece, Anne (Julie Christie), travels to India and there learns of her great aunt's affair with the Nawab, her subsequent pregnancy, and her exile from the British community. Anne's life begins to roughly imitate that of Olivia's when she has an affair with a local Indian administrator (Zakir Hussain) and also becomes pregnant. Merchant Ivory screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala based the film's screenplay on her own acclaimed novel of the same name. Jhabvala was raised in England but after meeting her husband, an Indian architect, moved to India, where she lived for 24 years. Her screenplays Autobiography of a Princess, Hullabaloo over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures
, and Heat and Dust
reflect her own experiences as a British citizen living in a foreign land. At the time the film was released in 1983, Heat and Dust
was Merchant Ivory's biggest commercial success.