India-Pakistan partition and Lord Mountbatten through Gurinder Chadha’s lens an eye opener

Gurinder with her uncle Balwant Chadha in Sydney. She is here to promote her film ‘Viceroy’s House’, a movie that reveals a new angle to India-Pakistan partition.

By Neeru Saluja

She’s known for her light comedy films, but this time, director Gurinder Chadha depicts the most decisive moment in India’s history ”“ the partition.

After making a breakthrough with her film ”˜Bend It Like Beckham’ fifteen years ago, the director has now taken a leaf from her own family history to make the film ”˜Viceroy’s House’. The last Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten and his family live upstairs while their 500 Hindu, Sikh and Muslim servants live downstairs.  The film’s story depicts the suffering and loss of life during the partition while interweaving that with a series of events at the Viceroy’s house. As the politicians Jinnah, Nehru and Gandhi consult, bicker with each other and stand ground, the film unravels what could be a possible motive behind the partition.

While promoting the film in Australia, director Gurinder Chadha took out time for an exclusive interview to talk to The Indian Down Under about why the film is close to her heart, how she developed the story and her experience with working with late Om Puri.
Your latest film Viceroy’s House is a big step away from your light comedy films. What was the turning point in your life that made you decide to make a film on partition?

About 11 years ago I did an episode of the BBC series ”˜Who do you think you are’. I went first time to my ancestral homeland with my uncle and we went to Jhelum to find my grandfather’s house. In the program we go from Kenya to India and then to Pakistan. Initially I was hesitant to go to Pakistan, but the welcome was outstanding. They welcomed me with flower petals and called me their daughter. When we found the house, there were several families who were refugees. That was the turning point when I decided I need to make a film on partition, but it needed to be different.

Actor Manish Dayal (left to right), actress Gillian Anderson, director and screenwriter Gurinder Chadha and actress Huma Qureshi arrive for the screening of Viceroy’ s House at the 67th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin in February.

You have chosen a stellar cast for your film with Huma Qureshi, Manish Dayal, Gillian Anderson giving great performances. How did you go about your casting for a film set in 1947?

I enjoy casting and approached the actors that were right for the roles. I’ve seen Manish Dayal in the film Hundred Foot Journey and have been following him since then. Huma Qureshi did really well in the audition and I liked her a lot. All the actors were amazing, most of them being British actors.

Partition is a serious topic but you have weaved a love story in it. Was the love story to balance the sensitivity of the issue?

If you are making a film on divisions, having a love story always helps to focus on the divisions. The idea was to look at the politics but show how the political decisions and negotiations affect the couple, one being a Hindu and the other being a Muslim. I wanted to balance out the politics with the love story.

Was it a deliberate attempt to show Lord Mountbatten in a sympathetic position?

I think that the history that we have been told that he is blamed for the partition. The evidence we found that it was already planned before he arrived on scene. I wanted the audience to empathise with him as a human being but saying that he was culpable of changing the partition date and couldn’t get out of the blame.

You have subtly shown the intimacy of Nehru and Lady Edwina Mountbatten through one scene. Did you ever think about expanding the notion?

Whether they had an affair or not, we aren’t sure. But we knew they were very close. That is why I showed the intimacy and sharing glances. But I didn’t want to go beyond that as it would then steal the main plot, which is partition.

Being a British Indian, did you consider to balance the sentiments of both countries while making this film?

Of course. I’m as much as British as I’m an Indian. I made sure I made a well-balanced film and satisfied the varied audiences, be it Indian, British or Pakistani.

What was your experience working with late Om Puri, considering this was his last film?

It’s a tragedy that Om Puri passed away before watching the film. But he was in Gandhi 30 years ago and that was the last film made on partition. He was excited to get the script from a Punjabi director. He was very concerned about the relations between India and Pakistan, particularly in his series of tweets before he passed away. His last dialogue in the movie is a goodbye scene and is befitting to his farewell.

Actor Hugh Bonneville with  director Gurinder Chadha and her family

Gurinder at the British Film Industry reception  

We have also heard that you are making a Bend it like Beckham 2? Were you like Jassi while growing up?

I don’t know where these rumours have come from! I have no plans as yet to make a part two. I was like Jassi growing up. Bend it like Beckham is about me and my dad. As a director, somewhere along the line your story does influence your film and is a semi-autobiographical.

Viceroy’s House is being released in Australia by Transmission Films on May 18.










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