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Dry History Lesson

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Viceroy’s House
 Director: Gurinder Chadha
Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi and others
Rating: * 1/2

The fallout of the Partition of India is still impacting our country, so the more it is talked about in books, films and plays (like the Holocaust), the better. There is enough material about those horrific days, but Gurinder Chadha chose to make an insipid love story, set in a dry history lesson.

Viceroy’s House (Partition: 1947 in Hindi), draws from books like Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre's 'Freedom at Midnight', Narendra Singh Sarila's 'The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India's Partition' and Pamela Hicks’s 'Daughter Of Empire', along with a lot of archival footage. It tells of the last days of the Empire, when Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville--miscast), accompanied by his wife Edwina (Gillian Anderson-schoolmarmish) and daughter Pamela (Lily Travers), comes to India as the last Viceroy, to oversee the transfer of power.

It was a tumultuous time for India, with widespread communal violence, which could only be quelled by the religion-based division of the country, and the carving out of Pakistan.

There are some hurried meetings between Mountbatten and Nehru (Tanveer Ghani), Jinnah (Denzil Smith), who behaves with mean-eyed petulance and Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi) who makes an appearance. Lord Islay (Michael Gambon) and Sir Cyril Radcliffe (Simon Callow) also make an appearance. There is some hand-wringing over how short the time was, but Chadha communicates no sense of the enormity of the task and monumental tragedy that followed, as people from both sides of the border were uprooted and millions slaughtered.

She seems to be more interested in the pomp and ceremony of the Raj, and some below-the-stairs bickering by the liveried staff. The love triangle between Jeet (Manish Dayal), Alia (Huma Qureshi) and Arif (Arunoday Singh) serves no purpose. Om Puri, in one of his last films, makes a thankless appearance as Alia’s blind father. The big reveal is supposed to be that Mountbatten and Radcliffe were only scapegoats in the terrible Partition plan already put into motion by Winston Churchill, which historians have debunked.

If a filmmaker (or writer) has nothing much to say about such a significant chapter in India’s history, it’s perhaps better they refrain from this kind of half-baked work.

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