Viceroy’s House

In 1947, Prime Minister Clement Attlee decided to recognize the independence of India, but the final decision on whether to partition the country, as Muslims wanted, was left to the top administrator of the colony, the viceroy. Attlee decides to give that decision to Lord Louis Mountbatten (played by Hugh Bonneville), whom Attlee appoints while firing the previous viceroy. With violence already breaking out between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, Mountbatten arrives on February 20 and soon realizes that the sooner he makes the decision, the less violence will occur, though Lady Edwina Mountbatten (Gillian Anderson) urges delay. Despite opposition by Ghandi (Neeraj Kabi), he listening to both parties concerned—Nehru (Tanveer Ghani) and Jinnah (Denzil Smith)—, identifies a consensus for partition, and travels to London in order to gain approval for partition. When he returns, the “Mountbatten Plan” still requires someone to draw the borderline between the two countries, something very difficult because the two groups live side by side throughout colonial India and particularly in Bengal and the Punjab. In British politics, what becomes clear is that Attlee could have made the decision but leaves the dirty work to Mountbatten, who had been the Supreme Allied Commander for Southeast Asia during World War II and was transferred from viceroy of Burma. In addition, the previous prime minister, Winston Churchill, had already drawn the border on a map, but the document was not relayed to Mountbatten, even in Delhi. Instead, a civil servant holdover from the Churchill era gives the map to Lord Cyril Radcliffe (Simon Callow), the person assigned to draw the border, and Mountbatten does not find out until the border has become a fait accompli.

(Although not mentioned in the film, Mountbatten relinquishes the title of viceroy on August 16 and becomes Governor-General of India before retiring from the post in June 1948. Also not mentioned, though hinted, is that Mountbatten persuades leaders of princely states, never ruled by colonial Britain, to join the Indian union. The exception was Kashmir, which has been identified as Mountbatten’s worst mistake.)

Meanwhile, a love affair develops between Jeet Kumar (Manish Dayal), a Hindu, and Aalia Noor (Humish Qureshi), a Muslim. But a triangle emerges when the woman’s former lover returns from his assignment in World War II, fighting for the British among several thousand Hindus and Muslims from India. After the day of partition has been designated, Aalia must choose between her two suitors, making for considerable frustration for the Hindu, as her family prefers to relocate to Lahore, Pakistan, and thus brings considerable emotions and suspense to the film, which is directed by Gurinder Chadha, who provides a title at the end to identify herself as the granddaughter of Jeet Kumar.

The third aspect of the film is the explicit focus of the title—the regal architecture and thousands of servants in what became Government House after independence. However, the actual filming was in Rajasthan province.

Titles at the end quantify the millions of deaths and refugees due to the partition, a figure never equaled since in any similar event or civil war. MH