A Holiday in Burma

Source: C.M. Leicester, A Holiday in Burma, with a chapter on a visit to Calcutta (Exeter: A. Wheaton and Company, 1928), pp. 44-49

Text: After dinner there is time for an entertainment of some sort, as the hours kept in Rangoon are not early. An opportunity offers of seeing a Burmese film by Burmese actors, and the party is attracted to this in preference to any more usual entertainment.

There are several picture houses in Rangoon. Some display posters familiar in London and give inside the comfort of plush upholstery. There is also an Indian cinema house where may be seen perhaps a presentment of Hindu folk lore. The Burman has his own favourite resort, his own film favourites whose deeds of valour and daring are recorded vividly on the hoardings. The film appears to have caught the imagination of the Burman, and he has recently embarked on the production of native films. After some experience of partial failure due to the difficulty of lighting, the strong sunlight being insufficient to show up details and to do justice to the jewels which are worn in the legendary tales of kings and princes, it was decided that there must be a visit to America to study methods of production and lighting. Recently films have been produced which have done great credit to the Burmese producers.

The building of the Burmese cinema is neither beautiful or very comfortable, and ten rupees has secured the luxury of a ‘box,’ a sort of loose box with concrete walls and wooden sides, containing half-a-dozen seats. There is some unaccountable delay in starting the show, and the orchestra fills in the time playing on the native instruments what are evidently popular airs, for the audience breaks in and sings the refrains. At last a start is made, and the local news is shewn in pictures with descriptions in Burmese, and, as a finale to this prelude, there appears the cause of the delay — a slide, unearthed from some dim recess, with ‘Welcome’ in colour and
garlands: a friendly greeting to the intruding West.

Then follows the film, a record of the adventures of a very popular hero who appears to combine in his attractive person all the daring of a Jack Sheppard and a Dick Turpin with the adventurous spirit of the desperado who has for the past year successfully eluded justice for wild deeds committed in the Thazi district. Dressed in his native lungyi and gaung baung, and complete with pistol and mask, he pursues his exciting career and accomplishes a series of desperate flights and escapes; capturing a horse and riding bareback; dropping from a roof into a waiting motor car; tearing with open throttle along country roads whilst from the back he peppers his pursuers with shots from his revolver. Breathless, exciting adventure in accordance with the accepted tradition of another hemisphere, but with the scenes laid in less familiar settings.

The orchestra faithfully records the emotions aroused in the audience, who from time to time break into the music with song. To unaccustomed ears it appears impossible that there can be any definite scheme in the sounds produced by the instruments, and one experiences an involuntary tribute to the intelligence of these people, who evidently are more sensitive to cadences than we are ourselves.

The sub-titles, in Burmese characters, stretch across the screen like chains, their meaning elusive and intriguing.

The pictures must unfold their own story. The youth is evidently the pampered son of a family of high respectability. His parents, in Western dress, are seated in padded comfort, in a room replete with ‘occasional’ tables, lace covers and anti-macassars. The father is reading a newspaper and the mother is toying with a piece of embroidery, when the news comes of their son’s escapades. Shocked and distressed, there is much talk but no action. They seem hampered by their unaccustomed garments and the chairs. It would seem more natural for them to be squatting on the floor in their native costume.

Then follow more hair-breadth adventures and escapes and the introduction of the love interest. There are meetings in a garden with a charming little lady with flower-decked hair. Passionate appeals are made and tender glances are exchanged — and that is all there is to a love scene in Burma. It would certainly fail to ‘grip’ a Western audience, for the lover does not approach his lady nearer than a couple of yards — so etiquette decrees. There is a parting and the lady is sad. The lover leaves her, to continue his thrills in another reel.

By this time it is after ten o’clock, and half-time. Already the young man has committed crime enough to hang him many times over. He seems certainly to be heading for disaster. It is impossible that so gallant a figure should end ignominiously on the scaffold, and it would appear to be equally impossible that the authorities can be hoodwinked into allowing him to escape his due and settle down into domesticity with his waiting lady love. A solution is difficult. But endurance is at an end, and with the full knowledge that the next reel will produce the thrill of the hero placing his enemy on the rails in front of an on-coming train, the box is vacated and escape effected into the night air.

Outside are lined up the cars of the Burmese merchants, their drivers asleep, awaiting the end of the performance, which will be about midnight.

Comments: Burma (now Myanmar) was a British colony in the 1920s. Fiction film production began in the country in 1920. It is unclear whether the news referred to was a newsreel or news relayed through slides. I have not been able to find any information on C.M. Leicester, except that he was British and probably came from Devon. His visit to Burma and India took place over 1926-27.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

This entry was posted in 1920s, Burma (Myanmar), Travel writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *