Film review: Viceroy’s House
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The English title of British-Indian director Gurinder Chadha’s new film Viceroy’s House suggests more clearly what the film is about than the vaguely named Hindi version Partition: 1947. It is, of course, about the partition of British-ruled India into India and Pakistan. But Chadha’s chamber-piece tries to see it from the point of view of everyone who inhabits the Viceroy’s House, which becomes a metaphor for colonial India on the brink of independence itself.
Every party has representations here: the well-intentioned British Lord Louis Mountbatten(Hugh Bonneville) who arrives from Burma to take charge of the transfer of power with his good-hearted wife Edwina(Gillian Anderson). The manservants, who overhear historic conversations and talk in hushed tones in their quarters, are Hindus as well as Muslims. Its offices bear witness to the cold negotiations and big decisions by the British and Indian leaders. Amid all this, Jeet Kumar (a well cast Manish Dayal), the personal attendant to Mountbatten, is in love with Aalia Noor(Huma Qureshi), who works as a translator there.
Inspite of Chadha’s best intentions, Viceroy’s House is strangely ineffective. As the film progresses, especially as it hurries to its end, this “balanced view” begins to feel more of a convenient and safe approach rather than an objective way of looking back at the bloody chapter of history. I’d have liked to see more of Mr and Mrs Mountbatten going through the aftermath of the partition. The Hindu-Muslim romantic track between Jeet and Aalia, a cliche in itself, concludes in a laughably predictable climax in one of the refugee camps. The film could’ve done more with the partition’s relationship with the strategic fear of the British of the USSR taking control of the oil in Middle East. But Chadha, one of whose constant themes is the duality of identities, is interested in make a film about a lot of things rather than focus on the lesser known facts about the partition. It isn’t a bad film, it just isn’t interesting enough.