Lets talk about Viceroy’s House.
Firstly I want to say, if you haven’t watched the movie, GO WATCH IT! Stop reading all the reviews, watch it and form your own opinions.
Secondly, what you are about to read is my response to watching the movie. If you agree/disagree that’s fine but these are my own personal thoughts.
Thirdly this is not a review of any sort. Just an opportunity for me to gather my thoughts and articulate them to you.
Now that we have got the formalities out of the way, lets begin.
Viceroy’s House is a really good film. It took me about 15 mins to get deeply drawn into it, but once I did, I was gripped. It is moving, funny and thought provoking. There were moments when I was sat at the edge of my seat holding my breath. There were moments when I was holding my sisters hand, tears rolling down my face. And there were moments when I groaned with frustration, thinking no, it wasn’t like that!
I was already invested in this film long before I watched it. This year marks the 70th anniversary of Partition. 70 years since the birth of Pakistan, and the independence of India from a long and debilitating British rule.
My grandparents survived partition. For those of you who have listened to my podcast, you will know that my grandfather, Mirza Khan Butt, served in the 2nd world war. He, along with millions of other Indians, served because they had been promised freedom if Britain was victorious. This is touched on in Viceroys House. So I guess in one way, I watched this movie, hoping to see some of the stories I had heard growing up. And I did. The stories of co existence, friendships and mutual respect all came through. But Chadha didn’t shy away from the reality of partition. The stories of rioting, rape and devastation weaved in between the various narratives within the movie. And this was done seamlessly.
What made me feel uncomfortable was the portrayal of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He was presented as this aloof, arrogant and stubborn man, who was intent on splitting India in half to create this new state called Pakistan. There were points throughout the movie when Jinnah was portrayed as a spoilt child who refused to compromise because he wasn’t getting what he wanted. It was as if Mountbatten was left with no choice. Pakistan seemed to be this vague idea Jinnah had dreamt up, with no considered thought and he wasn’t going to rest until he got it.
Viceroy’s House does touch on the fact that Jinnah pursued Pakistan because he wanted to guarantee the safety of the Muslim minority living within India and he was convinced that without a separate state this would not be ensured.
But Jinnah did not conceive this idea independently. Nor so flippantly. Those who know the history of Pakistan and the struggle for a separate state will know that Jinnah was heavily influenced by philosopher Muhammad Iqbal.
Furthermore, it was created to be a secular state, as Jinnah said in the days leading up to independence
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan … You may belong to any religion or caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State … I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”
But you see the more I think about this movie, the more I think, this wasn’t a historical story. It isn’t a documentary. It is a drama. It is entertainment with some factual basis. It is Gurinder Chadha’s story as she rightly said today. It is her narrative.
So although some of those who are linked to Partition will want to see their struggles represented, this is unfair to ask. Because a story has a million sides. Especially one that involves the independence of a nation and the creation of another.
At the end of the movie we are told that Gurinder Chadha’s grandmother survived partition, she crossed from Pakistan to India, her baby died on the journey there. She was one of the many millions of refugees. It is this story that will frame Chadha’s storytelling. I am not saying that Viceroy’s house is biased or partial. But your reading of history is influenced by your own experiences or of those who are close to you. They mark you because it becomes your history. Your heritage. Your identity.
So we cannot look to claim our history with Viceroy’s House, but what we can do is offer different perspectives. It is only by encouraging others to tell their own stories of this traumatic and hugely significant period, that we can begin to truly understand its impact not just then, but now.
Gurinder Chadha has done a fantastic job with Viceroy’s House. She has told her story. It is up to you now to share yours.