The year is 1947, India is in turmoil and on the brink of a civil war irrupted by a clash of religion. A new Viceroy is sent to India to dissolve the British monarchy’s rule over the country and to partition in hopes of creating peace between the clashing Muslims and Hindus. Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House succeeds in showing the consequences of partition by not shying away from using genuine, shocking footage of the violence and devastation that resulted in the decisions made as a result of Western greed.
Chadha divides her story into two halves; The first being the political struggle to appease the nation. Portrayed by Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson, Viceroy and Lady Mountbatten meet with all leaders to create a peaceful solution. We soon learn that the country is just as divided politically as it is religiously, with leaders like Muhammad Jinnah (Denzil Smith) and Jawaharlal Nehru (Tanveer Ghani) believing that giving Muslims their own country would lead to peace, while others like Mahatma Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi) believe that it would create even more violence. Chadha portrays the Mountbattens in a positive light; showing that they genuinely cared for the future of India and its people. Chadha goes as far as to speculate that Winston Churchill was the real brains behind the eventual border line and creation of Pakistan, having already promised it to the supporting leaders, and looking at Pakistan as a future economic perk.
The second half that forms Chadha’s narrative is a Romeo and Juliet-esque love story between Lord Mountbatten’s valet, Jeet (Manish Dayal) and his wife’s lady in waiting, Aalia (Human Qureshi). While these leads, who encompass a wide array of Indian actors, are likeable, this fictional romance doesn’t seem necessary and it’s use mainly to defuse tension. The film would have worked just as well without it, but the personal touch can be understood. Jeet and Aalia’s differing religions give the viewer an inside look at the loss, heartbreak, and separation felt by a whole nation through the actors’ emotional performances.
Along with the often seemingly unnecessary romance, the film lacked deeper explanation of characters and events which could lead to a misunderstanding of such an enormous epidemic. However, as usual, this is due to runtime. Had this been an HBO mini-series, the partition of India could have been explored in more depth.
As previously mentioned, the film is filled with a diverse cast of actors whose performances were all powerful. The one who stands out the most among the British is Gillian Anderson, who completely transforms into Edwina Mountbatten by changing her speech and movements. The film also sports the great Michael Gambon, who gives a splendid performance as General Ismay who served as Lord Mounbatten’s chief of staff in India. The actors who portray the various Indian religious leaders show a striking resemblance to their real-life counterparts, which adds to the realism of this true story. The stunning colour footage from the period used in the final credits shows the directors goal in staying faithful to the recreation of scenes and players.
Chadha presents a wonderful representation of Indian culture and history (along with her staple Bollywood style with some song and dance). The partition created the largest human migration in history, with approximately 14 million Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims being displaced. Viceroy’s House was made in dedication to Chadha’s Grandmother and to the other survivors of the partition that divided India. But especially, to the one million who lost their lives in an event that is often left in the back of our consciousness.
(Images: Viceroy’s House, 20th Century Fox)