Filmmaker Gurinder Chadha’s latest creation Viceroy’s House aims to shine a light on a pivotal moment of shared British Indian history documenting the titanic struggle for Indian independence.
The 57-year-old British-Indian director, who is of Punjabi Sikh Kenyan Asian descent, now living in London, is renowned for films which explore the lives of Indians in England.
A common thread with her work showcases the trials of Indian women living in the UK and how they must reconcile conventional tradition and modern culture.
Her latest blockbuster hit Viceroy’s House goes several steps further taking on a monumental period of Indian history charting the fight for independence in 1947, which ultimately led to a rancorous partition, the creation of two new countries and the largest mass migration in modern history.
Speaking at the UK premier of Viceroy’s House, at Curzon Cinema, Mayfair, London, director Gurinder Chadha said: “I am slightly overwhelmed by today, I can’t believe we finally got here after that seven-year journey,” she said. “I’m really happy to show the film to members of the public, and to the world and that I have been able to shine a light on a very important part of our shared history, but using my words and my unique position as a British Asian woman. We don’t get to tell those stories, I didn’t ever think growing up that I would be able to tell this story. So for me it’s a tremendous moment to celebrate that I’ve been able to do that.”
Alongside Chadha was co-writer and film producer Paul Meyeda Berges. He said the film has a topical theme with current world affairs “I want audiences to look at this film as say, when you divide people by their religion or ethnicity, it’s going to lead to problems,” he said. “If you’re going to erect walls and borders and talk about the politics of hate and division, ultimately that’s going to lead to enormous problems. And that’s what happened in India in 1947. That is what’s happening around the world in different ways. If feels very topical and when there’s those things happen there’s lots of statistics about all the people that are made refugees and what I hope this story does is it makes those stories human. You can look at those people and it could be what you would experience if suddenly the UK was cut in half. It can happen and when it does it’s a huge upheaval.”
Also on the red carpet was Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville, who took on the role of Lord Mountbatten. He said it was a fascinating experience playing a man that he was aware of from childhood as a great figure of the royal family who tragically met his end when he was killed by the IRA.
“I knew he had been an enormously influential figure not only within the royal family and British society but also as the last Viceroy of India, when Britain had agreed to withdraw from India. They were an ambass with the Indian leaders. He took on this extraordinary difficult role, not a dimplomat himself, not a politican, trying to knock people’s heads together and say you’ve got to talk. India, as someone says in the film, is a ship on fire and we need to extract Britain as well as we can and try to build a new nation. It ended up being two nations and of course the bloodshed of partition was horrific. But out of that came these tiny seeds of hope and two great nations were born. But the echos of those days still ring down to today. Mountbatten was right at the centre of it so it was a fascinating character to play and a fascinating period of history which I didn’t know that much about.”
Young Californian movie star Manish Dayal, who plays Lord Mountbatten’s valet Jeet in the drama, talked about the seismic impact of Indian partition. “This was the greatest mass migration in modern history, over 14million people were displaced from their homes, forced into migration. One million people died. So it’s a huge part of India history which remains relatively untold and that’s what our movie aims to do.”
British India actor Tanveer Ghani, who plays Jawaharlal Nehru, “The story of this film is the independence of India which was in 1947, and it was when the British handed India back to the Indians. They didn’t want to, but they had to, because they were bankrupt because of the war. So they handed India back, they divided it up, but the result of it was a huge amount of people being slaughtered unnecessarily, it was genocide. The official figure was a million, but it is likely to be close to 1.3millon. But that’s a lot of people on one day were living side by side, muslims, sikhs and others living happily and then all of a sudden they are killing each other in the most horrific manner. And you think how did that come about and I think this film does touch upon this, which is great, but it’s not a heavy political drama. It tells you what happened, but there is also a love story and there is hope and beauty.”
Huma Qureshi, who takes the role of Aaila and the love interest of Mountbatten’s valet Jeet, said: “This film is about the responsibility of giving India back to its people and also divide it with Pakistan. At that point in time in his (Mountbatten’s) house all these big decisions were taken. While all this is happening there a love story taking place between a muslim translator for Lord Mountbatten, played by me, and his hindu valet. The country was being divided on religious lines between hindus and muslims, so it was the wrong time to be in love with a boy from the opposite religion.”