Although Jessica and I spent a lot of time entertaining ourselves on the village set of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, not every day was spent on this repurposed tea plantation. There were days when filming moved to areas along the Mahaweli Ganga (river). This longest of Sri Lanka’s rivers flows through Kandy and in places has cut a deep and impressive gorge creating beautiful vistas from the hills surrounding the water. It was across this river that the iconic Temple of Doom rope bridge was constructed.
Luckily for the crew, a massive project to dam the river to harness power and provide dry season irrigation was underway in the vicinity. This meant that there was a great supply of engineers on hand to assist with the design and construction of the bridge. My family was allowed to see the bridge suspended 200 feet above the river, but understandably we were not allowed to walk across it. I was not there the morning they rigged the bridge with wire cutters and explosives and had one take to get the climactic scene in which the bridge falls. As I recall Jessica and I decided it was too early to get up. But, we did hear a lot of happy people celebrating that night at the hotel that their one-take had been successful.
Also along the river was to be the scene where Kate was going to tangle with a giant snake. You may recall the room rented at the Hotel Suisse under the name of Mr. and Mrs. Longfellow which housed two giant pythons. Kate mentioned again and again the scene in which she was going to have one of the snakes as a scene partner. She told us the gist was that the snake was going to wrap around her and begin to squeeze. Indy was going to try unsuccessfully all of his manly adventurous tricks to get the snake to let go and finally only succeed by singing it a song. However, when faced with the snake Kate told us she had a massive panic attack and told them she simply couldn’t do it. She said later in the script she had to deal with bugs, but that those would be simple because bugs you can just throw on a person. It turns out when it came to it hundreds of creepy crawly creatures were scarier than she anticipated as well. I don’t know anything about the negotiations that took place regarding the Longfellow’s appearance, but I do know that scene Kate described was never in the movie. She did however deal with one of the pythons that she mistakes for a pesky elephant’s trunk.
When not on set, Jessica and I spent many happy afternoons swimming and touring around Kandy. Her friend Jamie was adventurous and game for anything I suggested. I took them for a walk in Udawatta Kale, a lush forest reserve in the hills above Kandy where we saw several poisonous snakes who did not have their own hotel rooms. On our way to the nature preserve we passed a movie theatre with a sign welcoming the Western movie guests with special showings during the week of Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. We went to the theatre and saw Star Wars and the next day on the set I told Lucas we had seen it. “You noticed my name is the first thing you see in that movie?” he inquired. Honestly, I had not noticed, so I just smiled and nodded.
Jamie dove into every experience. At the market she bargained at stalls for batiks and trinkets and commissioned some outfits from our local tailor. She also worked with a jeweler friend of ours to design a combination ring and bracelet which they created and delivered to her before the film crew left the country. Sri Lanka is known for its gems and my mother had been slowly purchasing stones during our months on the island. Some she was buying for specific friends back home who had sent her requests. Others she was acquiring in the hopes of selling them for a profit back home with the help of her father who worked in a jewelry store at the time. When our new movie friends made it known that they were interested in looking into gems as well, Mom had her preferred salesman from her favorite store bring a selection of offerings to our home to show. She had a dinner party and Harrison Ford and his then wife Melissa Mathison came to look along with Steven Speilberg and Kate Capshaw. We had several fun dinner parties at our home with this group.
One especially hectic day on the set of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom came when the crew filmed all of the children rushing back into the village and being reunited with their families. There were a lot of people around that day and all of the kids were very excited. In what was the final scene of the movie which leads directly to the credits, Willie Scott informs Indy she is headed back to Missouri “Where they never feed you snakes before ripping your heart out, luring you into hot pits…” She storms off to ask for directions when he lassos her with his whip and pulls her in for a kiss. My guess is being ensnared by a whip could be quite a painful process but it was accomplished by a clever camera cut and simply tying the whip around her waist. As he pulls her in, the kiss is initially thwarted by a generous dousing of water from an elephant’s trunk, but of course Indy always gets the girl, elephant nose water be damned.
As they finally embrace, all of the children the couple rescued from the mines happily surround them. Well, technically they were not the same children rescued from the mines as all of those scenes were filmed on a sound stage in England with different extras, but for the purposes of the movie plot of course they are the same. Jessica and I were able to watch all of the filming from within a hut that had been constructed as part of the village. Although the structure was clearly visible in the shots, we were told we could stay in the building if we were not seen so we watched through cracks and holes in the walls just feet away from the action. I guess our peeking eyeballs are therefore in the movie, but hard as I have tried I see not even a shadow to indicate where we were. With the help of interpreters Spielberg whipped the children into an excited frenzy and told them to encircle Ford and Capshaw as they kissed and show their appreciation to the couple. His direction may have been a bit too inspiring. After several takes Kate asked to speak to Spielberg. After conversing with Kate in hushed tones he looked around and called out for me. Since Jessica and I had been given strict instructions to stay hidden I timidly peered out from the door of the hut worried that we had done something wrong. Spielberg caught my eye and hurriedly gestured for me to come over. I glanced questioningly at Jessica who shrugged before I stepped out of the hut and jogged over to him. It seemed like everyone was looking in my direction. He put his arm around me and told me he needed to say something to the kids that might be better coming from another kid. Apparently in their enthusiasm the extras were showing a bit too much affection towards the leading lady in the buttocks region. As he explained I gave a surprised look to Kate. “A lot of pinching going on,” she said nodding.
Spielberg motioned for the group of kids to gather around and I explained in Sinhala to be gentle with “the madam.” I told them that she had a lot more movie to make and that it would be better if she was not sore. Some of the kids sniggered, and they got back into place for another take. She told me it was better after that, but if you watch her reaction in the footage they used in the movie I wonder if they used one of the earlier versions. She seems a bit shocked at how enthusiastically they greet her!
See the clip here.