by ASH

It’s 1947, where the British rule of India is coming to an end. Lord Louis Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) arrives at the Viceroy's House in Delhi, tasked with overseeing the transition of British India and the establishment of an independent nation. He’s accompanied by his wife Edwina (Gillian Anderson) and daughter Pamela.

Viceroy's House

It isn’t an easy job for Lord Mountbatten. First, he has to manage his strong-willed wife, then he has to mediate disagreements between two major political leaders. One wants India to remain intact after the British pulls out, while the other wants to establish Pakistan separately, as a Muslim state.

Mountbatten favours one-state India, but it really isn’t up to him to decide. Riots ensue and violence breaks out. With only a few months left to “settle” India, will Lord Mountbatten rise to the occasion?

Viceroy's House does follow historical events of India’s path to independence, but the movie, the brainchild of director Gurinder Chadha, is also based on her own interpretation.

Chadha, who gave us the brilliant Bend It Like Beckham, was a child growing up in Britain when she learnt that India and Pakistan had been split into different states. The British had decided that it’s best for the Muslims and Hindus to have their own homelands to avoid potential religious strife. As an adult, she was keen to make a film about India’s partition because of her family’s history. Chadha's family was torn apart after the partition.

Her Sikh family has roots in Jhelum in the Punjab province in present Pakistan. Before the partition, the Hindus have their temples while the Muslims have their mosques and everyone lived in peace. After the partition, however, the two sides are suddenly at odds with each other.

This is the driving force for Chadha to tell the story, “I wanted to show the emotional impact, not the fighting. My maternal grandmother came to live with us in the 1970s and she was still totally traumatised. When she sat with us to watch telly she would be disturbed by conflict of any kind. We laughed at her, but she would say, ‘You don’t know what happened to us!’”

Chadha is mindful not to make a political statement with the film. Instead, she weaved in a romance, between a Muslim girl and a Hindu boy, whose love for each other is somewhat driven apart by their religion. With the burgeoning love story, Chadha cleverly tells two parallel stories of the same topic, one a love story that audiences can relate with, and the other one on the harsh effects of India’s independence.

While in India, Mountbatten was vilified for his role in the bloodshed that follows India’s independence, Chadha made sure her film suggests a more likeable Mountbatten, one that’s more like a pawn in a complicated game of chess, clueless that plans were already set in place way before he set sail to India.

The film has caused some divisive comments from critics, some call her story completely bollocks, but some applaud her for injecting a gentler touch on a difficult subject that many Indians still can’t speak of. To Chadha, she simply wants to make a story that tells about her family’s past. “It is my personal view. What makes this film British, with a Punjabi beating heart, is its sense of fairness. People will have quibbles, but Pakistanis seem to feel it shows they survived and Indians see all the British skulduggery.”