Pathe Films, BBC Films, Reliance Entertainment & Bend It Networks present “Partition: 1947” (Hindi version of “Viceroy’s House”)
Produced by: Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges & Deepak Nayar
Directed by: Gurinder Chadha
Written by: Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges & Moira Buffini and based on “Freedom at Midnight” by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre and “The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story Of India’s Partition” by Narendra Singh Sarila
Music: A.R. Rahman
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi, Michael Gambon, Simon Callow, Lily Travers, Om Puri, Simon Williams, Samrat Chakrabarti, Sarah-Jane Dias, Roberta Taylor, Tanveer Ghani, Denzil Smith, Robin Soans, Neeraj Kabi, Darshan Jariwala, Trishaan, Arunoday Singh, Raj Zutshi, Gerry George, Hans Raj Hans, Asif Ali Beg and others
Gurinder Chadha should thank her stars that she is not based in India. The film’s content is, in many ways, controversial from the word ‘go’ and attacks the British Empire and specifically Churchill for manipulating the Partition of India. That this will be a fact not at all appreciated by the British should be logical: yet, Chadha had managed to get cooperation from the British (including writer Moira Buffini) and make and release the film sans protest or hurdle.
At face level, the crisp 106-minute film begins with the British deciding to leave India. But before that, there is a job to be done – they have to hand over its governance to the Indians. The Hindus and Sikhs are united, but a sizeable part of the Muslims want a separate nation wherever they have a majority – Pakistan.
Into this turmoil arrives the last Viceroy – Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) and Lady Edwina Mountbatten (Gillian Anderson), decent souls who love India and want to see it do well. They have to look after the smooth transition. The three Indian leaders, Nehru (Tanveer Ghani), Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi – unrecognizable!) and Jinnah (Denzil Smith) make things difficult – Jinnah wants Pakistan.
As all pleas and conditions fail, Mountbatten faces the inevitable – that he must split the nation. Lady Edwina is shocked, but realizes what is happening – there is already rampant bloodshed in various parts of the country. Enmeshed within this tale is another triangular love story – of Mountbatten’s boy Jeet Kumar (Manish Dayal) and Alia (Huma Qureshi), lovebirds caught in the treacherous divide between Hindus and Muslims.
Jeet has helped Alia’s father (Om Puri) where he was in prison as a freedom fighter, and the old man is now blind. He now wants Alia, as per the wishes of her late mother, to marry a Muslim boy named Asif (Arunoday Singh) who now drives Jinnah’s car and has fought in the British Army in World War II. Jeet and Alia have never disclosed their love to Abba, and things seem hopeless now, as Asif is set to take them to Pakistan!
As the day of reckoning nears, and the petty divisions of everything from library books to spoons and forks in the Viceroy’s House begin, bloodshed increases and refugees and dead bodies pile up, Alia is believed dead in a train carnage, while Mountbatten gets to know a morale (and morals)-shattering truth.
Jinnah may have succeeded, Nehru and Gandhi may have accepted the unpalatable fact of Partition, but what Mountbatten gets is the foul knowledge that this Divide and Rule concept has been cunningly engineered from back home for economic gains. His repentant British family (including daughter Pamela) thus stays back in India after Aug. 15 to atone for their misdeeds that no one knows!
Chadha’s interest (her family was also affected during the Partition holocaust) and her research and commitment are palpable in every frame. Along with the great grip and the voltage of the horror, the intrigue and the effects on wayward Indian elements are graphically shown. The British here are mostly benevolent, but then as we see in the climax, are not even above betraying one of their own: a straightforward man with an Army background – Mountbatten.
Technically, the film is a winner. Though placed in 1947, it does not look dated but has an opulent look. The real documentary shots are seamlessly incorporated, their VFX superlatively done. The DOP (Ben Smithard), editors (Valerio Bonelli, Victoria Boydell), production designer and art directors (Laurence Dorman, Mat Bergel, and Ravi Srivastava), costume designer (Keith Madden) and background music composer (A.R. Rahman) do their work magnificently.
Chadha is in supreme fettle as writer-director, and keeps the tone positive even in the darker avenues of the script – there is nothing pretentious, needlessly morbid or facetious in the narration. The A-list cast is spellbindingly led by the reel Mountbattens – Bonneville and Anderson with Dayal, Qureshi and Om Puri. Lily Travers as Pamela and Darshan Jariwala as an official are also fabulous and very natural.
The British politicians are excellent (especially Michael Gambon as Pug and Simon Callow as Radcliffe), and the three Indian politicians are good, though we, for some reason, see Sardar Patel minus even a word spoken!
But then, this is the pro-establishment version of Partition, and many more untold truths lie behind what happened. Suffice to say that the film is sincerely made and well presented, even if opinions, depending on perspectives, may differ to diverse degrees on the matter shown.
In India, this film may be lost in both Hindi and English versions in a clutter of releases, but we hope that it will be worthy of a recall over time.