City of Joy

City of Joy

Om Puri and Patrick Swayze

All that is not given is lost."

Mark Medoff wrote the screenplay, The City of Joy, based upon the best selling book written by Dominique Lapierre .

Lapierre in the real City of Joy

In the book, there were 50 or 60 stories, but, from all these storylines, Medoff was able to pull out the storylines of Hasari Pal and Max Lowe. Max Lowe, played by Patrick Swayze , is a young doctor at a crossroads in his life. The story opens with him losing a patient…. a young girl… on the operating table. He leaves the room, emotionally spent.

Next scenes are in India, where Hasari Pal played by Om Puri, a poor Indian, is introduced. Hasari is in dire circumstances, having lost his farm to the moneylenders. He must find a way to support his family in Calcutta, and he ends up in the Anand Nagar (translation, City of Joy).

Meanwhile, Max abandons his career as a Houston doctor and heads for India to “find the meaning of life.” Life for him begins as a real struggle. He is beaten and robbed of all his possessions. He is found by Hasari and taken to the street clinic run by Sister Joan. She cares for him. One of the first questions she asks of him is, “Why have you come to India?” He answers, “To find enlightenment.” In answer to her next question of whether he’d found enlightenment, he answered, “I’ve opened the doors and windows of my soul, and so far I haven’t found a damn thing!” In time, though, his outlook changes. His, Hasari Pal’s, and Sister Joan’s lives entwine, and they all become richer for it.

A Few Notes About City of Joy

Richard Dreyfuss was the first choice of City of Joy director Roland Joffe. His second choice was Kevin Kline. The French author of the book upon which the film was based, Dominique Lapierre, wanted Mel Gibson.

Joffe calling the shots

Roland Joffe was director for such renowed films as The Killing Fields and The Mission. He and producer Jake Eberts bought the rights to "The City of Joy" five years before they began to film the movie.

Actual filming of the movie began September 1990 in Calcutta. The city had about eleven million people living there. Of those, 100,000 lived on the streets. Over half made their homes in slums and bustees.

"City of Joy" depicted life in the bustee, in Anand Nagar. Joffe explains the difference between a slum and a bustee..."A slum is a place that is allowed to be derelict, a bustee is a place that has been built up with very little resources. A slum is about things coming to an end, a bustee is about things starting. The energy you find in each is totally different."

Patrick is very much a method actor. He became so deep into the character of Max that he made a mess of his own life during the early weeks of the shoot.

About this time he said, "It was scary. I mean, sometimes I would be throwing up in my room just from the emotions, you know. I got more and more reclusive and left the room only to run down and dive into the pool."

The filmmakers had to build a set, comprised of about 80 or so buildings, to replicate a bustee. It was accurate down to the last window frame, tin roof and open drain. While some people would see the building of such a large set as an odd way of going about it, Joffe said, “We could hardly move people out of their homes to make a film!”

For a foreign film to be made in India, the script must be checked by the government. The filming itself is overseen by officials. It took over a dozen changes to the script to get “City of Joy” approved.

Om Puri , who played Hasari, had a lot of work to do in order just to learn how to pull the rickshaw. He took it out daily with mock passengers. He found it, at first, difficult to even find the balance because of the difference of weight in people and how they sit in it. He commented that “the first time I tried to reverse, my rickshaw was nearly crushed by a bus.”

For the monsoon, the special effects supervisor had 250,000 gallons of water an hour on the set and sprayed the “rain” on the city streets. They sank an 850-foot well to provide water for it and for the street scenes 15 miles away.

The costume designer, Judy Moorcroft, had her job cut out for her! She had to dress 40 main actors and more than 20,000 extras.

To give an example of how Roland Joffe works, in that he often encourages adlibbing, there is a scene in “City of Joy” where Patrick, as Doctor Max, is tending to a baby boy. As the naked baby “showered” Patrick, the actor spontaneously adlibbed….”Whoa! He’s going to be a fireman when he grows up.”….. and then, as the actresses in the scene giggled, breaking character, he continued…. “I get no respect!” (taking from an old Rodney Dangerfield line). The cameras kept rolling, and the director liked the scene so much that he kept it in the film.

Patrick Swayze is American. Pauline Collins is English. Ark Malik, who played Ashoka was born in Pakistan but raised in England. Nabil Shaban, disabled actor, who played Anour, leader of the lepers was born in Jordan but was bred in England. Other than those actors, however, almost all of the others in the main cast of 40 are Indian actors. These actors work in Calcutta, Delhi and Bombay.

Cast Members

Patrick Swayze (Max) famous for his starring roles in "Dirty Dancing", "Ghost" and "Road House" and many other Hollywood movies.

He is a brilliant dancer and when he isn't acting, produces and directs dance films.

Pauline Collins (Sister Joan) is one of Britain’s most respected and loved actresses. She was nominated for an Oscar for her starring role in “Shirley Valentine.”

Also won the Tony and other awards for the Broadway and London stage productions of “Shirley Valentine”. She is also a favorite star of British television for many years.

Om Puri (Hasari Pal) was actually the big star in the eyes of the Indian people, not Patrick Swayze. He is a wonderful actor, having over 100 films to his credit at the time of the filming of City of Joy. He was also in such films as “Gandhi”, and “The Jewel in the Crown”. Puri has a huge career in India’s art cinema. He is considered a very talented, versatile actor.

Shabana Azmi (Kamla) had a film debut in “Ankur”, for which she won the National Award, India’s highest acting honor, for best actress. She went on to win the award again and again. In 1984, she became the first actor or actress to earn it three times in a row.

Azmi has won every major acting award offered in India. Not only is she honored in India, but also in Europe, where she has been honored by festivals and film institutes.

Art Malik (Ashoka, the bully) has been in many film and television roles since the early 80’s.

He gained attention with “The Jewel in the Crown”. His credits also i nclude “A Passage to Indian, and the James Bond film “The Living Daylights.”. Malik is the son of an eye surgeon, born in Pakistan. He moved to England, however, when he was three.

Nabil Shaban (Anouar) is an actor, writer, and, even more important, founder of the Graeae Theatre Company for the disabled in England. He is a wheelchair-user, but showed great determination in overcoming lack of interest and negativity when he began his acting career in 1980 with “Sideshow,” a comedy revue, which had as the cast six disabled actors. He has played leading roles in many stage shows (Hamlet, John Lennon, Mark Chapman, Haillie Selassie, Khomeini and Jesus) as well as television dramas (playing the Evil Sil in "Dr. Who").

What Dr. Vail Reese had to say about "City of Joy" and it's more realistic depiction of skin conditions...
"Surprisingly, other than an evil character in "Braveheart", most characters with leprosy in movies are shown sympathetically. Disabled actor Nabil Shaban portrays Anouar, the leader of a group of lepers in India. Leprosy is caused by a bacteria, Mycobacterium leprae, which contrary to popular belief, is difficult to contract. In leprosy, the immune reaction to the bacteria causes nerve inflammation and nerve loss, resulting in tissue destruction and sometimes loss of limbs. This film shows people with leprosy fight against ostracization and acheive respect. Other movies with realistic leprous characters are "Ben Hur" and "Papillon.""
© 1999 Vail Reese M.D.

Shyamanand Jalan, ( Ghatak, the godfather) is best know for his stage work. He was founder and resident director of the Hindi theater company, Padatik, at the time of City of Joy's filming. About eighty shows per year are performed yearly by the company.

Santu Chowdhury and Imran Badsah Khan (the two Pal boys, Shambu and Manooj) live in Calcutta. In City of Joy, they were making appearances as actors for the first time.

Ayesha Dharker plays Amrita, Hasari's daughter. At the time of the making of City of Joy, she had already done some work as an actress. She had appeared in the French film, "Manika" and also in "Mysteries of the Dark Jungle", a television show for Italian audiences.

Quotes from the Cast and Crew

About the filming of City of Joy, Roland Joffe said, “Making ‘City of Joy’ was never going to be an easy enterprise, but there is a warmth, a sense of humor and humanity in Calcutta, and I thought if we kept those things on our side and were never deterred, we would be okay."

Nabil Shaban also comments "Actually, we were constantly persecuted. There were lots of different people in Calcutta opposed to the making of the movie. Local politicians who were in trouble, tried to divert popular anger away from them onto our presence, whipping up anti-western feeling and organising demos and protests every time the film crew tried to work on location in the streets. Then, the Calcuttan intelligentsia were highly critical of our presence, objecting to yet another white Hollywood film company spending millions on creating the usual negative image of third world poverty. Mind you, I did have some sympathy for these apprehensions, particularly when they argued that Hollywood would resent an Indian film company coming to America to make a movie about poverty in New York. But I knew from Roland's previous work, that he was a just and compassionate director and would genuinely try to avoid producing a patronising or ethnic-offensive movie. But the Indian gutter press didn't want to see it that way. They just wanted to sell newspapers and harranging us made good copy. Headlines every day accused us of some heinous crime, whether it was making a porn movie or forcing the child actors to do sex scenes or even accusing one of the crew of committing a murder..."

"...On top of all this, the film had the local Mafia to contend with, who were demanding protection money. The set had to be protected by armed guards, day and night. In fact, the day I arrived, there had just been a petrol bomb attack of the set. Another day we had to stop filming because a corrupt judge had ordered the removal of the armed guard, which suggested this was a premeditated prelude to another assault. Given all these hassles, it is a wonder the cast and crew persevered for the 12 or more weeks in Calcutta. It certainly wasn't easy for the producers and director, although I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I loved the excitement, the apparent danger (they don't call me "Kamikazi Actor" for nothing), and I also loved Calcutta and its mad, crazy, joyful, warm people. The "Joie de Vivre" of this vibrant city was infectious"

Shabana Azmi on what is important to her about her character, Kamla…”She comes in touch with the instruments that make her realize her own self-esteem. She starts working outside the house, and she feels that Max and Joan give her a respect she’s never had before. “

Pauline Collins about her character, Sister Joan…"Joan, like everybody who comes to Calcutta to help, gains more than she gives. She is not a professional social worker or a nurse or a teacher; she is a woman who finds she can turn her hand to almost anything."

About playing the part of a leper, Nabil Shaban said, "The way Roland likes to work is to have actors research and gain as much practical experience possible of their character's situation and context. So, for example, Pat having to play the role of a street doctor, worked as an assistent to a real doctor who was attending to people who were living on the streets of Calcutta. It was Patrick's job to tend to wounds, give out medicines and change bandages. In my case, I had to spend some time in leper colony, meeting and talking to people who were suffering from the physically and socially disabling effects of leprosy. One of the first things I learnt was that there were basically two types of the disease - so called "wet leprosy" and "dry leprosy", and the former tending to be contagious and the latter is not. It was important to me that when I met people with "wet contagious leprosy" that I didn't flinch or show fear of touching them, that I interacted in a normal, humane manner because I knew as a fellow disabled person how much this physical contact would be appreciated. What I was hoping to achieve in playing Anour, was portraying a real person and not a cliche horrifying caricature of a leper."

Roland Joffe in discussing the theme of City of Joy…”This is not a film selling poverty. It is actually a story about the inordinate power that resides in the human spirit.”

Art Malik (Ashoka) commented that he is pleased that “City of Joy” will “introduce onto the international arena actors that the world has never seen before, wonderful Indian actors who have a huge following there.”

The boys on the set commented that a highlight of working on “City of Joy” was being taught to swim by Patrick Swayze.

Nabil Shaban also remembers not only the boys being taught to swim by Patrick and the stunt co-ordinator, Greg Powell but also, his own stunt double who was a dwarf hotel doorman was having to learn. The lessons were taking place in the private swimming pool of the five star hotel where the cast and crew were staying. "Apparently some of the Hindu guests complained to the management that the pool was being pollutted by low-caste or "untouchable" types (the boys were considered low caste because of their village origins, and prejudice against dwarves automatically condemned my stunt double as "untouchable"). When the assistant manager came and demanded the boys and the dwarf stop using the pool and leave the hotel premises, Patrick ang Greg were rightfully outraged, and refused and furthermore threatened that if their friends were evicted, the entire film company of over 200 guests would vacate the hotel in protest. That did the trick. There were no more fascist complaints. And that's one of the things I liked about Patrick. He was a man you could depend on in a fight."

Om Puri about Hasari…”Hasari looks at the positive side of life, and, in spite of his sufferings, in spite of being cornered, he still smiles…”

Last words from Nabil Shaban "Actually, I nearly ended up in jail for playing a leper. Apparently, my agent later told me, just an hour after we flew out of India (we hadn't finished filming but the production had had enough of all the persecution and harrassments, so it was decided to dismantle the set, ship it to Pinewood Studios, england, rebuild it and complete the movie there)the police arrived at the hotel to arrest Roland and little ol' me. They wanted Roland for being the director...and me for slanderously portraying a leper who being set on fire - "...because in India, nobody would dream of burning a leper". Perhaps not, but I did discover whilest in Calcutta, that there was a sort of factory run by the Mafia in the city where beggars took their children to have arms or legs hacked off to render them more productive as beggars. When I heard this, I was so incensed I just wanted to get a machine-gun and locate the Mafia's hideout and blow them away."

Roland Joffe is one of the patrons of The Cambodia Trust
The original aim of the Cambodia Trust was to try and do something to help the huge numbers of landmine amputees in Cambodia. This has since developed into helping people in general with disability regain their mobility, dignity and self-sufficiency, so they can lead full and productive lives as part of the community.

Of course, there will always be children being killed and maimed by landmines, cluster bombs etc whilest Western governments continue to indulge in the Arms Trade. Clearly, to deliberately kill and maim is immoral. Therefore anyone profitting from the manufacture and sale of arms, is "living off immoral earnings", which under English Law in the UK, is a criminal offense. It is this law which allows the police to prosecute pimps and prostitutes. Well, surely, why don't the police apply this same law to prosecute arms manufacturers, who are morally no different to drug-dealers?

Campaign Against Arms Trade

U.S. weapons are found in the hands of human rights abusing regimes throughout the world. And if you think it's through second-hand sales - guess again. While the United States vilifies dictators such as Saddam Hussein, we have continued to sell millions in weapons to equally repressive despots like General Suharto, who oversaw the death of over one third of the entire population of East Timor during Indonesia's 20 year occupation of that land.

Thanks to Goldilynx of for most of the text on this page.

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