Synopsis by Nathan Southern
Widely regarded as the crowning achievement of his career, Louis Malle's 378-minute documentary Phantom India provides an epic-length portrait of life in India circa 1968. Biographically, it succeeded Malle's United Artists period movie Le Voleur and the production of the "William Wilson" segment in Spirits of the Dead, and arrived at a time of intense personal crisis for the director: 34-year-old Malle, terrified of falling back into the same bourgeois mindset that he had worked so aggressively to escape, felt it re-encroaching; he also fell into a nasty funk that reportedly drove him to the brink of suicide. With his marriage to Anne-Marie Deschodt in pieces, Malle thus decided to wipe the slate completely clean: he dropped out of western society and headed to India, with a two-man crew (sound man Jean-Claude Laureux and co-cinematographer Etienne Becker), traveling without maps and without a compass - destination and whereabouts unknown. The three shot documentary footage instinctively, flipping on their cameras each time something caught their attention. The journey itself lasted a little under four months, from January 5, 1968 through May 1, 1968; it generated over 30 hours of footage, which Malle and editor Suzanne Baron subdivided thematically and edited into seven segments of about 54 minutes each. The individual episodes (each of which has its own record in this database) are as follows: Episode 1, "The Impossible Camera" Episode 2, "Things Seen in Madras" Episode 3, "The Indians and the Sacred" Episode 4, "Dreams and Reality" Episode 5, "A Look at the Castes" Episode 6, "On the Fringes of Indian Society" Episode 7, "Bombay: The Future India."