“Viceroy House”

Seventy years ago the British made good on their  promise to transition India to independence if they would help them win a war. This film is not focused on the Indian Freedom Fighters or the Indian attorneys who tried to extricate the British from India’s affairs. The  benevolent British vs. the self-serving British is the thrust of this period piece. Lord Louis Mountbatten ( Huge Bonneville )  and Lady Edwina Mountbatten (  Gillian Anderson ) work through the transfer of power and learn that they have been played by Churchill’s government. The Mountbattens were not the only ones to fall into the background. Fracturing India left fourteen million people  displaced, the largest diaspora in history.

Director Gurinder Chadha tells the story of the partition of India using a backdrop of forbidden romance from her own family, as well as, from N. Singh Sarila’s  2006 book, “The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India’s Partition”. British Colonial diplomatic history  is revisited with both its political intrigue  and its  focus on Russian determent over personal relationships.

In the opening scenes, viewers feast on hundreds of Hindi, Sikh and Muslim valets, gardeners, cooks, and secretaries. Turbaned sweepers fill the scene amid be-ribboned and be-medaled lords and ladies. Mountbatten tells all that he is to be the last Viceroy of India, the last raj.  Much pomp and circumstance ensues, and it is ordered that one half of all guests must be Indian. Lady Edwina and Lord Mountbatten wish to change things for the better. One staff member is fired and sent back to England for complaining of Indians standing too closely. Food is to be Indian and eaten with the hands. Symbolic concessions hold sway.

Smooth order is everything for the British. After three centuries of colonial rule, Mountbatten is the pawn of Churchill who orchestrates with ” We can not abandon 400 million primitives to their fate.” One Brit chimes that ” Dickie ( Mountbatten) can charm a vulture off a corpse.”

The staff of Viceroy House presents a microcosm of the country. Staff arguments and fisty-cuffs reflect the larger sectarian violence between Muslim, Hindi, and Sikh. Turmoil meshes with ceremony. This film lives on irony, and it is powerful.

Gandhi, Nehru, and Jinnah have their say about the need to fracture India. But it is the author Narendra Singh Sarila whose story is being told. He was the aide-de-camp to Mountbatten in 1947-48.

One man, who has never set foot in India, is given five weeks to fashion the borders of India’s Partition. It is this re-telling that frames our star-crossed lovers,  Jeet ( Manish Dayal ) and Alia ( Huma Qureshi ). Alia’s blind father, the last role of the late Om Puri, speaks of dignity not being taken away with his sight. There is much to ponder and feel in this epic film. It leaves you wishing to know more about the foci of power between Gandhi, Jinnah, and Nehru. The power of the Brits is made supremely  clear.