Viceroy’s House, written and directed by Gurinder Chandra
There are some good, interesting aspects in the Viceroy’s House, a film with a very good cast, a poignant story, which has in the background a gigantic, epic, monumental clash, the biggest migration in the history of humankind.
Hugh Bonneville – the head of another house, that of Downton Abbey- is very good in the role of the last Viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, coming as a hero from Burma, but caught in the middle of a political game and used – according to this plot anyway- for the ends of politicians.
He arrives in New Delhi in March 1947, with his daughter and wife, Lady Edwina Mountbatten portrayed by Gillian Anderson – of X Files fame- to make the final arrangements before the independence of India, only to find how complicated, violent and tragic this would be.
Lord Louis Mountbatten is pictured as a kind, empathetic, popular, friendly, generous, affable man, who tries hard to get all the parties to make peace, be fair to everyone and if possible, keep the former colony in one piece, after it gains its independence.
Meanwhile, his wife is also very active, a liberal woman who wants to get involved- indeed, her husband states that she is a much better politician than he will ever be, seeing as he is just a military man.
The drama of the independence, separation, riots and mass murders is what makes this film remarkable and this cinephile was not pleased with the love story that was inserted in the film, albeit the intentions are good and this is not a documentary, with the historical facts taking the limelight.
The problem with the love between Jeet, a Hindu and Aalia, a Muslim, is not that it distracts attention from or pales in comparison with the much bigger story of the Hindu versus Muslim conflict that has resulted in so many deaths.
In fact, their affection represents the solution to that apocalyptic clash, peace, friendship instead of hatred and violence, if two young people can be so infatuated with each other, why not their brethren?
Alas, a good idea is badly put in practice, the mishandling of the love story makes for some regrettable film making- although the under signed may be mistaken, the Metascore of the film is just a meagre 53 and the audience voted the film at only 6.6.
Manish Dayal and Huma Qureshi might be established Bollywood stars and could have performed marvelously in other motion pictures, but for the Viceroy’s House it was not an outstanding presence and it is not altogether their fault, for the script is simplistic and suitable for soap operas.
Michael Gambon is imperial – as always- in the role of the scheming Lord Lionel ‘Pug’ Ismay, who is in theory under the command of the viceroy, but in reality he would be the man who ultimately has the most important documents that would decide on the partition.
The Hindus led by Jawaharlal Nehru and the world wide famous Mahatma Gandhi – called by the equally popular Winston Churchill “a half-naked fakir”- want India to remain united after the independence, but the Muslims led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah want to have their own state.
Mahatma Gandhi, with his familiar affable, peaceable attitude – which would prevent him from celebrating on Independence Day when he says there is nothing to be exuberant about- proposes that Muhammad Ali Jinnah be the new leader of post-independence India so that they would all stay in the same country.
Jawaharlal Nehru is more pragmatic realistic than the idealistic Gandhi and says that even if the leaders of the Hindus would agree to allow the minority Muslims, through Jinnah, to rule, the latter would be voted out at elections, for they would have a democratic system and the electorate would eventually decide.
Alas, all these talks are taking place amidst the horror of riots and murderous fights between the two communities and the Sikhs, and it is reluctantly agreed that the partition has to take place, a commission is established and Cyril Radcliffe coordinates it aka the wondrous Simon Callow.
It would be interesting to know how much an artistic license is involved in the assertion that Winston Churchill has ordered some top secret work on a partition that is proposed here that Britain had wanted and had planned, with an ignorant Viceroy standing between the Muslims and the Hindus, completely unaware of the machinations of his own side.
This film offers the conspiracy theory that Churchill and his top commanders had foreseen the partition, had wanted a weaker India and a way to prevent the Soviets from reaching the oil in the Middle East and access to harbors that Pakistan would have.
In a way, this might have proved magisterial, insightful “real politik” for indeed, the Indians would be very close allies of the Soviets, for decades, while Pakistan would be much closer to the United States and the anti-communist camp.
In the Viceroy’s House, employees come to blows, as the religious divide shows its ugly face and the Hindus and Muslims fight each other, insult one another as they also opt for their new countries:
India and Pakistan