Viceroy’s House

Directed by Gurinder Chadha who is best known for 2002’s Bend It Like Beckham, Viceroy’s House is a fascinating historical drama about the final days of British Imperial rule of India and gives a behind-the-scenes look at the predominantly Indian staff who work for the last British Viceroy of India at his palatial estate in Delhi. The well-respected Lord Mountbatten, played by Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey fame, along with his strong wife Edwina, played by Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame, arrive in India in 1947 as the British Empire begins the complicated  process of turning over power to an Indian government. They are portrayed as sympathetic to the plight of many Indians who are extremely divided between the majority Hindu population and the minority Muslim population. Lord Mountbatten first advocates a unified India in which both religions live together as one nation, but, ultimately, he discovers that the issues are much more contentious and that a possible two-state solution of India and Pakistan may be the only option to prevent further violence. The Hindu political leader Jawaharlal Nehru, as well as Mahatma Gandhi, personally petition Lord Mountbatten to push for a single nation while the Muslim political leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah urges the Viceroy to create Pakistan as a separate Muslim-majority country. To dramatize the very real tensions between Hindu and Muslim, the movie follows a new Hindu servant at the Viceroy’s House named Jeet who is in love with the Muslim servant Aalia who has been arranged to marry another Muslim. With violent riots erupting across India over whether to partition the post-colonial nation, Jeet fears for the safety of his family and particularly his love Aalia. As the day of independence approaches, the conflicted Lord Mountbatten announces India will be partitioned in hopes of easing tensions; he learns that it was always the British government’s plan to create the nation of Pakistan and has been secretly supported by his Chief of Staff Lord Ismay, played by the terrific Michael Gambon. Subsequently, like the rest of India, Lord Mountbatten’s staff are forced to claim their allegiance either to India or Pakistan and will have to move their families accordingly after British rule officially ends. Jeet and Aalia, along with their families, must also make this extremely difficult decision. Overall, I thought the filmmaker did an excellent job of providing the audience with a greater understanding of the challenges caused by the Partition of India and its massive human toll, including over 1 million deaths and almost 15 million people migrating between the two new countries. One issue I had with the movie is the romance between the two major Indian characters did not feel necessary to tell the story and was almost as if it was thrown in at the last minute just for dramatic effect. 

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