by Rachel Willis
History is written by the victors.
So begins Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House, a film that focuses on the transition of power from England to India and the partition of India into two countries. It’s an interesting sentiment as the film seeks to show that in the transition of power, there are no victors.
With a history such as India’s, Chadha makes the wise decision to focus the bulk of the story within the confines of the viceroy’s house and grounds. The film opens with the arrival of India’s last viceroy from England, Lord Mountbatten, with his family. Because of the intimacy of the setting, the audience is privy to the negotiations between the British and the leaders of India. Many will recognize Mahatma Gandhi, but may not be familiar with the other leaders, including the head of the All-Indian Muslim League Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who led the charge to partition India with the creation of Pakistan.
In addition to the wider story focused on this transition of power, a more personal tale is woven behind the scenes through the love affair of Aalia and Jeet. Aalia is a Muslim woman in love with Jeet, a Hindu. As tensions between Hindu, Sikh, and Muslims rise, the two are pulled in different directions as family and religion come between them. Their story provides the audience with a more personal connection to the conflicts that arise as Lord Mountbatten tries to negotiate a peaceful transition of power.
As Lord Mountbatten, Hugh Bonneville plays a familiar role, as those who have seen him in Downton Abbey will recognize the similarities between characters. Gillian Anderson is his wife Edwina Mountbatten. Flawless as always, Anderson is almost underutilized in her role. However, the scenes in which she does appear are riveting. The two are sympathetic as they try to avoid a violent passage of power.
However, the film truly belongs to Huma Qureshi and Manish Dayal. As Aalia and Jeet, they bring life and hope to a movie racked with conflict. As tensions rise, their love is a light in the dark. Though the history of India may be written by the victors, it’s the stories of the people who live through it that connect us to the past.
As a love story, as a history, Viceroy’s House is a moving examination of a tumultuous moment in India’s history.