News reports say that Indian Summer, a controversial film to depict the final gasps of the British Empire in India, has been cancelled. The dramatized historical picture, which was to be filmed in India, reportedly featured an intimate relationship between Jawaharlal Nehru and Lady Edwina Mountbatten.
The intimacies of Nehru and Lady Mountbatten are widely known whispers, yet it’s almost sacrilege to broach the topic in the Indian public sphere. This is a shame. Nehru was perhaps India’s greatest prime minister, a freedom fighter and a statesman; that his personal life had its imperfections does not detract from his legacy. Instead, this kind of candour demonstrates that even a society’s best, such as Nehru, make personal decisions that the mainstream may frown upon.
To suppress these truths is not only intellectually dishonest, but also creates a culture where sensationalism and mistruths can be perpetuated. The film’s American director Joe Wright reportedly told Variety, an entertainment trade publication: “The Indian government wanted us to make less of the love story while the studio wanted us to make more of the love story.”
For a project like this, one must carefully broach the line between truth and sensationalism—for Indian Summer, before it was shelved, it looks like the latter was a serious concern. This trade-off, if that is an appropriate expression in this context, shows the constraints that a big-budget Universal Pictures-backed film will always face: The studio surely would benefit from a sexed-up plotline, yet the Union government wanted to purge any stain of an affair from the narrative.
This situation is emblematic of a more troubling trend in the Indian public sphere: Certain myths are not explored, examined and evaluated, because they cause discomfort. Many may find Nehru’s personal dealings repulsive or inappropriate. But the pursuit of truth can reveal the context of a statesman such as Nehru and, perhaps, even tell us much about our country’s historical trajectory at key moments such as the transition to Independence.
History will judge Nehru on his triumphs and failures as he ushered independent India onto the world stage. His intellectual ferocity, graceful eloquence and commitment to his country and its people will surely endure—regardless of whatever he did or did not do in his personal life.
Perhaps it is too much to expect a mainstream film, starring Cate Blanchett, to serve as a corrective for popular historical record. But it is a great disservice to not explore the truths of a great statesman—no matter how inconvenient they may be.
Should Jawaharlal Nehru’s personal life be the subject of popular cinema? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org