Viceroy’s House: Common humanity

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Viceroy’s House dramatically illustrates the human stories beneath the political events of 1947, when Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) faced the unenviable task of overseeing the partition of India into (mainly Muslim) Pakistan and (mainly Hindu) India. As the politicians and officials argued about the position of new border lines on a map, like a ‘bloody axe cleaving right through people’s lives’, Mahatma Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi) reflected ‘we are brothers with one soul, to divide us on religious grounds is against the will of God.’

Gurinder Chadha, the film’s director, is acutely aware of the personal impact of religious divisions, because her own family were amongst the 14 million refugees who found that their homes were suddenly on the ‘wrong’ side of the border. She says that it was her ‘sense of a common humanity, spanning the religious divide’ which motivated her to create this film.

Viceroy’s House dramatises the inter-religious conflicts which led to the fighting in which up to a million people died from violence, starvation or disease. And it does so, particularly powerfully, through the eyes of two of Mountbatten’s staff who are passionately in love, but experience their own personal partition. Secretary Aalia (Huma Qureshi) is a Muslim, whereas valet Jeet (Manish Dayal) is a Hindu. In a deeply symbolic scene at an engagement party, they are pulled apart and told to ‘dance with your own kind’. Mirroring the reflections of Gandhi, Jeet later says ‘we belong together.’

At a time when, as Gurinder Chadha has commented, ‘we have a world in which division of people is very much to the fore’ this dramatic and insightful film causes us to stop and think about the common humanity that unites us all.


See also: Take-One.TV discussion-starter video on this film