Published Feb 13, 2017 10:46am

This new film reexamines the politics of Pak-India partition

From left to right: Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi, Gillian Anderson, Gurinder Chadha and Hugh Bonneville in Berlin on Sunday.—AFP
From left to right: Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi, Gillian Anderson, Gurinder Chadha and Hugh Bonneville in Berlin on Sunday.—AFP

Gurinder Chadha, the woman behind Bend It Like Beckham, demands British “accountability” for the humanitarian disaster triggered by the Indian subcontinent’s partition, in her new all-star drama Sunday at the Berlin film festival.

Viceroy’s House tells the story of Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Boneville) overseeing the 1947 end of three centuries of colonial rule. He and his wife (Gillian Anderson) are portrayed as well-meaning if naive puppets of London at the start of the Cold War, as Mountbatten agrees to the carve up the subcontinent between Hindu-dominant India and Muslim Pakistan.

While global politics is being made upstairs, the Indian servants observe the goings-on with mounting horror, just as a love story buds between a Muslim member of staff (Huma Qureshi) and a Hindu valet (Manish Dayal).

In the film, the partition is seen as rushed, chaotic and eventually disastrous, fuelling sectarian violence and a refugee crisis that displaced an estimated 14 million people and left up to a million dead.

Viceroy’s House begins with the tagline “History is written by the victors”, often attributed to Winston Churchill.

Chadha, who made one of the most successful British movies of all time with 2002’s Bend It Like Beckham, is a Punjabi Briton whose own family was displaced by the partition.

She said she aimed to challenge the received wisdom on it. “There was a far bigger game at play which was the geopolitics of the time, which are not too dissimilar to the geopolitics playing today in that part of the world,” she said.

“The film shows a series of blunders that led to the disaster as well as careful political manoeuvring for bigger interests in the back.”

Chadha indicates in the film that the British fomented religious hatred based on a “divide-and-rule” strategy and planned for the partition, even as World War II raged, to squeeze the Soviet Union out of a regional foothold.

Although she began working on the project seven years ago, long before Brexit or Donald Trump’s run for US president, she said the film’s themes of poisonous divisions and the destructive power of walls resonated more strongly now.

“Here we are releasing the film when the politics of hate and division are so prevalent and are defining not just America at the moment but... [also] Europe,” she said.

“I feel this film is a timely reminder of what happens when you promote hate and division and start to criminalise a group of people. The end result is violence and death and history tells us that.”

Viceroy’s House is screening out of competition at the Berlin film festival, which runs until Feb 19.

Originally published in Dawn, February 13th, 2017


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Comments (25) Closed

sATT Feb 13, 2017 11:07am

But which country was partitioned?

worldcitizen Feb 13, 2017 11:49am

Hindus and Muslims have lived together peacefully for more than 1000 years.Why after partition of 1947 all of a sudden they started fighting ?

worldcitizen Feb 13, 2017 11:51am

Gillian Anderson is leading actress in UFO disclosure based sci-fi series x-files.

NOMANSLAND Feb 13, 2017 11:58am

@sATT What do you mean by which country was partitioned ?! India was partitioned and Pakistan was formed !!

Alanore Feb 13, 2017 12:09pm

We are greatful we got this beautiful country Pakistan. Best thing ever happened.

neeraj ,India Feb 13, 2017 12:09pm

intersting Plot will watch it

Ali Feb 13, 2017 12:23pm

@worldcitizen in those 1000 years subcontinent was ruled by Muslims. when the Europeans came, they start to suppress muslims already. It was not going in right and neutral direction. That thing created these problems. If we look at Hindustan now, Muslims living there are suppressed.

Saif zulfiqar Feb 13, 2017 12:36pm

@worldcitizen, You are wrong. Is India treating muslims and hindus equally.? Muslims and Hindus have been fighting since more than 1000 years. The difference between Hind -Muslim are as far away from each other as Poles.

Ati Feb 13, 2017 01:00pm

Partition was a blessing . Still today millions of Muslims are being persecuted in India.They are still backward and in poor condition . Kashmiris are being killed .Their children being blinded by indian army pellet gun attacks.In 1947 ,Hindus did not get freedom from British only , they were released from the centuries of Mughal rule also.

THE OBSERVER Feb 13, 2017 02:14pm

@Ali And what about Hindus living in Pakistan ?

jawad Feb 13, 2017 02:59pm

Pakistan Zindabad we have our beautiful country with beautiful people in beautiful location. I dont ask for anything else from God that Pakistan was made and we love our country.

Harmony-1© Feb 13, 2017 03:09pm

@SATT - British empire!

dhiraj Feb 13, 2017 03:12pm

@worldcitizen not hindu and muslim only india and pakistanies are fighting

Feroz Feb 13, 2017 03:43pm

It is all done and dusted now, another movie will not change matters.

Indian Feb 13, 2017 11:31pm

@Ali yup and Hindus in Pakistan are very happy

Waqas Ahmed Feb 14, 2017 02:04am

@worldcitizen Lived peacefully for 1000 years only because India was ruled largely by Muslims not the Hindus. The only reason Muslims chose to have a separate land was that they feared Hindu oppression once the British leave India.

Jigar Feb 14, 2017 05:42am

@Ali Are you saying minorities in Pakistan have freedom to do anything and practice thier relegion freely and celebrate valentine's day as well.

Syed Ali Feb 14, 2017 10:39am

British government should publicly admit its guilt and responsibility in the greatest disaster of the century and apology to the people of India and Pakistan

Sri Feb 14, 2017 11:44am

@Ali please find me one Indian Muslim in agreement with you..

sATT Feb 14, 2017 12:24pm

@Harmony-1© British Empire had many countries which one are talking about.

someone Feb 14, 2017 01:28pm

@Alanore , Be grateful not greatful.

khan Feb 14, 2017 02:40pm

@ someone, be critic not critical

Rashid Sultan Feb 16, 2017 08:40pm

@jawad Keep on loving until the truth dawns via Dawn.

pepe Feb 17, 2017 03:08am

@Ali have coffee and read correct history books

pepe Feb 17, 2017 03:10am

@jawad Thank India yaar ...