Saturday, 11 March 2017

Film Review: Viceroy's House

Viceroy's House is a film about the last Viceroy of India, before the Partition of the nation into India and Pakistan. It is directed by Gurinder Chadha and stars Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi and Michael Gambon. As a white person from Britain, I obviously will have a different perspective on things then someone of South Asian descent, so I apologise for any misconceptions I may have made in this review.

Lord Mountbatten (Bonneville) arrives in India to prepare the nation for it's new independence. However, tensions are already running high between Hindus and Muslims. Meanwhile, a forbidden romance begins between two of the servants, Jeet Kumar (Dayal), a Hindu and Aalia Noor (Qureshi), a Muslim. As violence runs high and Partition becomes inevitable, Lord Mountbatten moves forward the date on which the transfer of power will happen. This film benefits from a fantastic cast, including a truly inspired performance by Gillian Anderson as Lady Bonneville.

This is not a film to watch if you want something to cheer you up. It handles its subject matter with respect and dignity, and you'll come out of it having learnt a lot. However, It's a film that details one of the darkest periods of Indian history, and doesn't gloss over the worst parts. There is one particularly powerful scene where we go from news of the violence during partition, to scenes of celebration, to the despair of the refugee camps.

I can understand people who may have apprehensions about this sort of film. However, it's not a "white saviour" film. It makes it perfectly clear that most of India's problems were caused by British colonial rule. The new Viceroy and his family come to India with good intentions, showing respect to the people of India that would put many people nowadays to shame. However, the more they try to fix things, the worse they make things. The disconnect between how the servants live and how the Viceroy and his family live are made clear. Many times, what is being discussed between the various leaders from England and parts of India will affect the servants more than the people taking part in the discussion. The camera shows this very well by focusing on the servants listening faces than on the people talking. Throughout the film, the lives of the ordinary people of India, rather than the white people in power, are always kept at the forefront of the audience's mind.

I recommend anyone who wants to learn more about the Partition of India and anyone with a personal connection to the history of India to see this film. And please, pay attention to the dedication at the end.

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