Movie Review: ‘Viceroy’s House’

Shyama Sudra



When Gurinder Chadha announced that her next will be based around the partition of India and Pakistan, there was much interest as to how a British Asian director would tell this story, and what perspective it would take. Based on a true story, with ‘Viceroy’s House’, Chadha promised to make a film that portrayed the other side of politics, which she decided to investigate after taking part in BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are’. It was her search to find out where she came from and it took her to places she never thought she would go.

The year is 1947. India is preparing for its independence, the new and last Viceroy of India Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) is arriving in the country with his family, and a young Jeet (Manish Dayal) is being shown around the Viceroy’s house and being told what his duties will be as a servant. Though all seems well at first, talks of India being divided to make a new nation for Muslims – called Pakistan – are beginning to creep up. With the Viceroy, being served by Indians, Muslims and Sikhs in his own house, it’s his job to find a way to make the transition for independence as peaceful as possible. As for Jeet, his love for Muslim girl Aalia (Huma Qureshi) – who he knew before and now also work in the Viceroy’s house – is being tested. As tensions rise between faiths and religions, both the Viceroy and Jeet are in for more than they bargained for.

It’s fair to say that Chadha is no stranger to interesting and heartfelt cinema, however this time she has managed to make a film that is both simple yet intense at the same time. In doing so, Chadha has brilliantly entwined three stories together; the Viceroy’s fight to bring peace t0 the country and give it its independence, the effects of partition for Muslims, Sikhs and Indians, and also Jeet and Aalia’s love story. Despite so many strands, the director has done a fantastic job in keeping the intricate and intense story full of simplicity. Chadha is able to make her audience connect with her characters in a way where they feel their thoughts and emotions are at the forefront. A perfect element to the film has to be the way Chadha has used the Viceroy’s house itself as its own character. Its grandeur is a metaphor representing the path the narrative will take.

Chadha couldn’t have done a better job when it comes to casting for this project. As each character lights up the screen, audiences immediately indulge into their stories. Bonneville’s performance as Lord Mountbatten is extremely refreshing and a character extremely unlike the many British characters portrayed in film regarding their time in India during the British Raj. Through his act, one gets a sense of humbleness, truth and righteousness. His is a character torn between wanting to do good for the country and its people, only to be betrayed by those he holds close. Through Bonneville’s role, Chadha shows a different side to people from the British Raj. Dayal is definitely a wonderful actor, and playing the humble yet passionate Jeet only proves his commendable talent. Portraying a role full of love, determination and hope, Dayal’s execution is with great confidence. His chemistry with Qureshi sees sparks fly the minute they are seen together. Qureshi, who plays a strong woman tied between her dreams and those of her father’s, is a breath of fresh air. It’s evident that the actress has definitely advanced in her acting craft and is able to give audiences the space to embrace her character in their hearts, vouching for her all the way. A very special mention has to go to the late great Om Puri, who effortlessly plays Qureshi’s blind and loving father. This was yet another great performance by the legendary actor that doesn’t go unnoticed. Playing the father that every girl wants to have and the mentor that every boy wishes for, he is a wonderful reminder of a great actor who will never be forgotten. Michael Gambon is another outstanding performer perfectly added to the cast. Representing the role of Lord Mountbatten’s right-hand man General Hastings Ismay, Gambon is an instant hit with the viewers. Playing his role with ease, the actor manages to add a bit of mystery, where though the audiences will like him, there is room for second-guessing too.

When it was revealed that AR Rahman would be composing the film’s music, audiences knew they would be in for a musical treat. And sure as it was they won’t be disappointed. Doing what he does best, Rahman’s score carries the film’s story forward wonderfully. Hans Raj Hans also makes a small appearance with his rendition of ‘Dumadum mast Kalandar’ which sets a lovely wedding scene reflecting a calm before the storm. The majority of the film’s soundtrack plays as the events unfold throughout the movie, at times creating a much higher emotion than dialogue would have on its own.

It’s clear to see that this film was more of a personal ambition for Chadha than anything else. She has put her heart and soul into a project that reflects her own history, and a journey of discovery not only for herself but the migration of her family too. This isn’t a film about India and Pakistan being on rival ends nor is it made to make a stand against politics or any other sort. Chadha has simply made a film that invites those who watch it to think and understand the way in which the events of the partition unfolded. For those expecting to see action scenes, sequences of violence and chaos will be disappointed, for this is more than a film about war. Instead they will be witnesses to the way people were torn apart emotionally and physically from the things they loved, in a sincere way. With a great cast, wonderful music, interesting script and, of course, clever direction, this is one film audiences need to see on the big screen. Rating: 4/5