The Deceivers
DVD cover
Directed byNicholas Meyer
Written byMichael Hirst
Produced byIsmail Merchant
CinematographyWalter Lassally
Edited byRichard Trevor
Music byJohn Scott
Distributed byCinecom Pictures
Release date
2 September 1988
Running time
102 minutes
CountriesUnited States
United Kingdom
Budget$5-6 million[1][2]
Box office$346,297[3]

The Deceivers is a 1988 adventure film directed by Nicholas Meyer, starring Pierce Brosnan and Saeed Jaffrey. The film is based on the 1952 John Masters novel of the same name regarding the murderous Thuggee of India.


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The film takes place in 1825 India. The country is being ravaged by Thuggees, a Kali-worshiping cult also known as "Deceivers," who commit robbery and ritualistic murder. Appalled by their activities, English Captain William Savage undertakes a dangerous mission in which he disguises himself, and infiltrates the Thugee cult. At constant risk of betrayal and vengeance, Captain Savage undergoes a disturbing psychological transformation, experiencing the cult's insatiable bloodlust for himself. The film was shot in various locations around the arid steppe region in northwestern India.


Original Novel

John Masters' original novel was published in 1952. It was his second novel, following Nightrunners to Bengal.[4]

"It offers color and violence in large gobs" said the Washington Post.[5] The New York Times called it "an unfocused work that never comes to grips with its material."[6]

The novel was adapted for radio by the BBC in 1984.[7]



In 1957 it was announced John Bryan would produce a film of the novel for the Rank Organization with Masters writing the screenplay.[8] The film was not made.

In 1974 Stanley Donen announced he had the rights and wanted to make "the kind of movie I've never made before - a big sprawling epic."[9] He did not make it either.

Film rights passed to Merchant Ivory Productions. "It's completely different for us," said producer Ismail Merchant. "We're known for doing E.M. Forster and Henry James. Deceivers is in the same genre as Raiders of the Lost Ark. Which is certainly a switch."[10]

Mechant later said he made it to "keep the production company moving".[11]

In 1984 Michael White was reportedly working on the film.[12]

Development took ten years. Original directors were Marek Kanievska and Stephen Frears.[10] Then Merchant approached writer and director Nicholas Meyer—fresh off his work on Volunteers and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home—through Meyer's agent about directing The Deceivers. Meyer reportedly agreed to a substantial pay cut in order to direct the film, remarking, "Hollywood is making films I have no interest in seeing, machined tooled, packaged, with a lot of numbers after their names. The studios don't just want home runs. They want grand slams. Anything less than $100 million is not interesting to them."[1]

"It's strictly action-adventure = a 'cavalry to the rescue' type film," said Meyer.[10]


Christopher Reeve and Treat Williams were originally considered for the part of William Savage,[2] but Meyer successfully lobbied to have an actual Englishman in the role. In his memoir The View from the Bridge, Meyer wrote, "'Here's a story about an Englishman who disguises himself as an Indian,' I reasoned. 'If you cast this actor, you will have an American disguising himself as an Englishman, disguising himself as an Indian. We will be lost in the stunt, even if he pulls it off, and not pay attention to the story and the things we want to take for granted, i.e., that it concerns an Englishman.'"[13]

The part ultimately went to Pierce Brosnan, whom Meyer fondly described as "Errol Flynn—with talent."[2] Brosnan had just missed the chance to play James Bond due to his commitments to Remington Steele. His casting was announced in April 1987.[14]

"I play an Englishman, a glorified accountant working for the East India Trading Co.," said Brosnan. "He discovers this cult and disguises himself as an Indian. He goes on the road with the Thugs, who kill people by strangulation."[15]


Shooting took place over a four-month period in India, in Jaipur, Agra and Khajuraho, while post-production was completed in London. Filming started 21 September 1987.[16]

Filming was marred with difficulties from the onset. According to Meyer, the production was subject to frequent disruption from the local Jaipur mafia for declining to make any dealings with their leader. Meyer wrote, "Scores of hooligans stormed through our sets while we were rolling; equipment was sabotaged or stolen; 'cultural' societies were founded for the sole purpose of suing us, alleging pornographic distortions of Indian culture."[13]

The filmmakers were criticised by social and political groups who felt it distorted Hindu religion and culture. [17] The producers argued it was "a pure and simple thriller".[18]

At one point, Ismail Merchant and co-producer Tim Van Rellim were arrested for "obscenity and misrepresentation of Hindu culture." Among the allegations was that the production filmed a Sati as one really happened. Merchant responded to the allegations with disgust, saying, "What happened was a mockery—people taking advantage of democratic principles in order to whip up a frenzy."[2]

Associate producer Paul Bradley said the charge came from a politically well-connected Jaipur businessman who was unhappy at the depiction of Kali and the subplot about suttee. "The script has already been submitted to and passed by the Indian government," said Bradley. "Any film made in India, certainly by a foreign company, has to be vetted and passed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting." Bradley said the businessman and some film workers had been "pressuring the production company to employ them at exorbitant rates."[19]

Despite the disruptions, Meyer spoke highly of his Indian production crew, stating, "One day when we needed our tulip crane for a big shot, I was flummoxed to learn that four of its bolts had been stolen, incapacitating a vital piece of equipment. I don't deal well with last minute alterations to The Plan, but my Indian crew managed to mill four new bolts by the time we were ready to roll."[13]


Box office

The Deceivers was not a box office success. The film earned only $346,297 in the North American market against an estimated $5-6 million budget.[3][2]

Critical response

The Deceivers was released on 2 September 1988 and received mostly negative reviews from film critics. The film currently has a 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 6 reviews.[20]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a mediocre review and stated that, "Despite the film's claims to be based on fact, I didn't believe it for a moment. I did, however, enjoy it at various moments. Brosnan disappears so completely into the leading role that he hardly seems present in the movie, and the film's portrait of Victorian India is a triumph (the production was designed by the British master of period atmosphere, Tony Adams). It looks great even at its most incredible."[21] Janet Maslin of The New York Times also thought negatively of the film, stating "The tinniness of Michael Hirst's screenplay (It's older than time and just as mysterious) hardly helps bring this material to life, any more than Mr. Brosnan's unconvincing and (despite several episodes in which he proves himself capable of violent killing) rather passive performance." Maslin then went on to say that, "In its own way, The Deceivers is oddly old-fashioned."[22] Hal Hinson of The Washington Post called it "an adventure epic with a pretty measly sense of adventure." He added, "There are a few patches of exotic fun, like the opening murder scene, and there's a seductive campfire dance by a young boy that's creepy enough to send chills (though perhaps inadvertently). But for the most part all we react to is the squandering of a good idea."[23]

Conversely, Jay Boyar of the Orlando Sentinel gave the film modest praise, saying it "casts quite a spell, combining supernatural overtones with scenes of shootings, stabbings and (especially) strangulations. Without being crude or exploitative it tells its story in a modest, old-fashioned way with no reliance on gratuitous gore."[24]

Home media

The Deceivers was released on DVD through The Criterion Collection.[25]

See also


  1. ^ a b Harmetz, Aljean (6 April 1987). "Independent Films Making It Big". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e Broeske, Pat H. (20 December 1987). "High Adventure". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
  3. ^ a b "The Deceivers (1988)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  4. ^ How to Succeed at Writing by Trying Very Hard Masters, John. Harper's Magazine; New York, N.Y. Vol. 226, Iss. 1354, (Mar 1, 1963): 54.
  5. ^ New York Slums, Other Vistas of Life: DOWN ALL YOUR STREETS. By Leonard Bishop. Dial Press. 688 pp. $3.95. Reviewed by John Barkham. The Washington Post 6 Apr 1952: B7.
  6. ^ The Reign of the Thugs: THE DECEIVERS. By John Masters. 237 pp. New York: The Viking Press. $3. PARONE, EDWARD. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]27 Apr 1952: BR24.
  7. ^ Highlights of the coming week on television and radio: Monday The Guardian (1959-2003); London (UK) [London (UK)]29 Sep 1984: 10.
  8. ^ ON BRITAIN'S VARIED MOVIE FRONTS: American Star Problem --Chaplin's Rock 'n' Roll--Criticism Poser Up-to-Date "King" Gallic Critique Headed for India Out of the Past By STEPHEN WATTS. New York Times 3 Mar 1957: 113.
  9. ^ Perfect Imperfection: 'That's Donen' Farber, Stephen. Los Angeles Times 25 Aug 1974: p32.
  10. ^ a b c High Adventure Broeske, Pat. Los Angeles Times 20 Dec 1987: M41.
  11. ^ "Why is everyone so jealous?" Ismail Merchant talks to Lens Eye. The Times of India 6 Nov 1983: 2.
  12. ^ A WEST END WINNER: MICHAEL MURPHY met the successful impresario MICHAEL WHITE, an American with a string of theatrical hits behind him, in London Murphy, Michael. The Irish Times 20 Dec 1984: 10.
  13. ^ a b c Meyer, Nicholas (2009). The View From the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood. NY: Viking Press. pp. 181–186. ISBN 978-0-670-02130-7.
  14. ^ LA CLIPS Flashing the spirit of independence Deans, Laurie. The Globe and Mail 3 Apr 1987: D.3.
  15. ^ Pierce Brosnan Starts, Ends The Year In Asia Buck, Jerry. St. Louis Post - Dispatch20 Feb 1988.
  16. ^ Merchant And Ivory Keep It Personal After their hit, `A Room With a View,' By Joseph Gelmis. Newsday 30 Aug 1987: 04.
  17. ^ Rajasthan Social Groups Oppose U.K. Film The Times of India (1861-current); Mumbai, India [Mumbai, India]28 Sep 1987: 8.
  18. ^ No sati scenes in 'Deceivers' The Times of India News Service. The Times of India (5 Oct 1987: 4
  19. ^ Offended sensibilities lead to trouble with Indian film The Globe and Mail; Toronto, Ont. [Toronto, Ont]07 Nov 1987: C.4.
  20. ^ "The Deceivers Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 18 August 2010.
  21. ^ Roger Ebert (23 September 1988). "The Deceivers". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 18 August 2010.
  22. ^ Janet Maslin (2 September 1988). "Review/Film; Going Undercover in 1820's India". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 18 August 2010.
  23. ^ Hinson, Hal (9 September 1988). "'The Deceivers' Missed Metaphor". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
  24. ^ Boyar, Jay (17 February 1989). "The Deceivers review". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  25. ^ The Deceivers: Nicholas Meyer. The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 11 April 2012.