photography vivien leigh

The colors of of India

Vivien Leigh (right) riding an elephant in India, 1964

India has been on my mind quite often lately. While watching The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (John Madden) and Trishna (Michael Winterbottom) recently, I couldn’t help thinking that the thing I loved most about these two films was the cinematography and the beauty of the Indian landscape. A couple weeks ago, I sat in the library reading through the letters Vivien Leigh wrote to Jack Merivale. In the autumn of 1964, Vivien returned to the East for the first time since she left Darjeeling for London at age 6. Vivien’s letters, some of which were reprinted by Anne Edwards in her 1977 biography, describe her adventures in Nepal and India, the beauty of the people, the landscapes, the culture. Katmandu, Delhi, Madras, and Karanjia were on her list. She wrote with great delight about the temples, funeral pyres on the rivers, friezes of erotica, elephant rides and a journey in the Raj’s plane for breathtaking views of the Himalayas and a close-up look at Everest. It was a “return to her roots” although she never went back to Darjeeling.

Needless to say, all this reading and film viewing has made India jump to the top of my bucket list. Some day, I hope to take my own photos, but for now, I’ll leave you with some stunning images by photojournalist Steve McCurry. Best known for his  striking “Afghan Girl” portrait, McCurry has photographed for National Geographic and other publications for decades. A couple of years ago, he was entrusted with the last-ever-produced roll of Kodachrome film. The images are currently on his website. Whether shooting with film or digital, McCurry expertly captures the colors, faces and lifestyles of one of the most classically fabled countries in Asia.


Holi Festival, Rajasthan

Darjeeling | Monsoon, Goa

Jodhpur, Rajasthan

Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh


Taj Mahal, Agra

Jodhpur, Rajasthan



Holi Festival, Rajasthan


See more photos by Steve McCurry here.

Kendra has been the weblady at since 2007. She lives in Yorkshire and is the author of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, and co-author of Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies (Running Press). Follow her on Twitter @kendrajbean, Instagram at @vivandlarrygram, or at her official website.

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Comments (15)

  1. India is a world apart and I’m sure that Vivien’s upbringing there greatly influenced her nature.Fascinating photos.

  2. Amazing photos! I’m always so intrigued by cultures that seem to vibrate with color and character – it’s honestly the farthest thing from my personality, which might be why I find it curious – and India is certainly rich with it. It’s lovely that Viv had a bit of that in her. You could see it.

    1. I hear you. I really hope to make it to Asia some day, or indeed many countries around the world. Vivien’s upbringing was definitely reflected in her star persona, although in reality she seemed as upper class British as could be

  3. Good god, such beautiful pictures! 🙂
    I love the one with the kid running in the alleyway.
    India is one of those places I really want to go to even though it scares me a little too.

    1. McCurry is such an expert–and to shoot these on film and capture such good light and colors is amazing! It scares me a little, as well, but I think it’s my awareness of my own ignorance. I find it a frustrating and a bit difficult visiting countries where I can’t speak or understand he language. I feel like such an idiot!

  4. Hi Kendra … Enjoyed this post very much, and the photos are beautiful! Your interest in India made me want to ask … have you ever seen the1984 David Lean film “A PASSAGE TO INDIA” based on the E.M.Forster novel? If not I highly recommend it, and I think you would find it very interesting. I think the lifestyle of the English colonials depicted in the film must be very close to what life was like for Vivien’s parents … the polo matches, the country club, even the amateur theatricals like Ernest Hartley (and a very young Vivien) participated in are all brought to life in this film. It was filmed on location and the landscape, cinematography, and particularly the musical score are absolutely hypnotic. The cast is pretty stellar (Judy David, Peggy Ashcroft, Alec Guinness to name but a few) and the performances are wonderful. I think you would appreciate the film for its own sake, but if for no other reason I think you would enjoy it because it really brings the world that Vivien was born into to life.

    1. Hi David, I have indeed seen A Passage to India, and read the book years ago. I liked it, although it’s definitely not my favorite Lean film. My favorite novel of Forster’s is actually Maurice, which is beautiful in its own way, and is also a brilliant film by Merchant Ivory

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