Viceroy's House movie review: A dull love letter to our colonial masters
With over 14 million people displaced and over one million killed, Partition is arguably the most brutal single event in India's history. Coming from a family that was directly affected by it, Gurinder Chaddha, the director of Viceroy's House, clearly understands the gravity of Partition. However, despite this, she relegates it to the background of Viceroy's House, choosing instead to fawn over India's erstwhile colonial rulers.
The film follows Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) as he takes charge of the tinderbox that was India in 1947. With communal tensions boiling over, and Jinnah and the Muslim League lobbying for Pakistan, Mountbatten struggles to achieve his mandate of helping India transition into independence. Assisted ably by his wife Edwina (Gillian Anderson), Mountbatten finds himself racing against time and forces outside his control as India grows increasingly unstable.
The Mountbatten lovefest
However, in attempting to portray Mountbatten's predicament, the film becomes an ode to the Mountbattens and a disservice to the memory of Partition. Lord Mountbatten is depicted as empathising deeply with the Indians, his wife has a love for the country that makes no sense given she's only just landed in India, and his daughter is positively Diana-like as she tries to help India's children.
Indeed, if the film is to be taken seriously, the real horror is that the Mountbattens' impeccable goodness has been besmirched by events they had no hand in. While this in itself is problematic, its oversimplification of inter-religious tensions in pre-independence India is also an issue. Barring Aalia (Huma Qureshi) and her father (Om Puri), there is not a single Muslim in the movie that is against partition.
Instead, Muslims are uniformly portrayed as anti-Indian, desperate for a country of their own. They seem unmindful and uncaring about the consequences of such a move, ready to attack their Hindu countrymen despite sharing a peaceful co-existence.
The lack of agency experienced by common people during Partition isn't even acknowledged. Instead, between a scheming, power-hungry Jinnah, and an army of anti-Indian Muslims, Mountbatten is portrayed as a helpless bystander rather than the man who ultimately ordered Partition.
A half-baked love story
Wedged into the general narrative of how Partition came about, is a fairly insipid love story between a Muslim girl, Aalia, and a Hindu boy, Jeet (Manish Dayal). Both in the employment of the Mountbattens, their arc is one giant cliché made up of several smaller ones.
With the film still largely focused on its white characters, this story is told in short, awkward bursts. Their relationship, meant to be a secret, is flaunted so openly through the movie that the only character who can be absolved of ignorance is Aalia's father. And only because he's literally blind. The climax to their relationship is, unsurprisingly, also unsatisfactory, desperately pulling a happy ending out of thin air.
Should you see it?
Not really. The movie isn't an entertaining film, nor is it a decent history lesson. White audiences struggling with guilt over their colonial past, though, would do well to watch it. It will certainly make them feel better about colonialism.