Following Brexit, the uncertainty regarding the division of power and the partition of people has been at the forefront of everyone’s mind; it seems, then, that Gurinda Chadha’s Viceroy’s House could not have come at a more fitting time. The film follows Lord and Lady Mountbatten, played by Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson, as they attempt to ‘quit’ India as quickly as possible and with the least damage done.
At first, after watching the trailer for Viceroy’s House, one is left with the sense that the film is going to be that of a ‘white savior’ period drama in which the realities of British colonial rule are romanticised, as has so often been the case. However, in this instance, this did not prove to be wholly true. Although, director Gurinda Chadha often creates a playful atmosphere in the film, she did not shy away from the uncomfortable reality which Britain had forced India to face after the end of their colonial rule. Following British rule, India was politically and socially unstable and as such, tensions began to rise between Hindus and Sikhs and Muslims to the point that Indian Muslims wanted their own sovereign state, Pakistan. The film explores the difficulties the Viceroy faced in trying to negotiate between these opposing parties, although his attempts proved to be unfruitful and India was further divided, with the creation of Pakistan. Chadha does not soften the portrayal of the mass migration that took place as a result of the division, instead she depicts it as grueling and often fatal, something which it seems is important for British audiences to see despite the fact it took place many years ago.
However, the film does also feature some light relief courtesy of Chadha’s sharp story telling ability to capture audience’s interest and the brilliant acting from Manish Dayal who plays Jeet Kumar and Huma Qureshi who plays Aalia Noor. Their story line follows a Romeo and Juliet-type trajectory. Dayal’s character is Hindu and Qureshi’s character is Muslim, therefore their love is forbidden, but in contrast to the other messages in the film, their love succeeds in overcoming boundaries and boarders. This sweet love story gives a glimmer of hope for the future of India as is in the film but also for the future of the current world’s socio-political situation as we are seeing an ever increasing creation of boarders and segregation in one type or another.
It could be argued that Viceroy’s House is perhaps a simplified portrayal of India’s acquisition of independence that was created with broad brushstrokes. However, it seems that it is exactly this which makes it such a successful film. Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges and Moira Buffini have created a film which is accessible to a broad audience and especially to an audience that perhaps did not know of the negative legacy that the British and their empire left on the world or the hardship that resulted due to the creation of Pakistan as a new country. If one is to view the film this way, as an education on a matter that is deeply important and significant to British and Indian life, then it seems Viceroy’s House is no failure at all.