Viceroy’s House: A Divided India

Did you know Pakistan has only existed for 70 years, and Bangladesh is only 46 years old?  Why and how these countries came into existence forms a fascinating and often-forgotten part of 20th century history which began with events that the 2017 movie Viceroy’s House brings to light.

Viceroy's House group
Lord Mountbatten and his wife and daughter with Gandhi

British historical drama Viceroy’s House depicts the rule of the last viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, who is appointed to oversee British withdrawal from India and the establishment of an independent Indian nation.  Granting independence is not an easy task, however, for India is divided by race and religion, and its Muslim minority fears oppression under a Hindu majority rule.  Mountbatten attempts to negotiate a satisfactory compromise between three political giants: Jinnah, Gandhi, and Nehru.  Muslim leader Jinnah seeks a separate nation for Muslim Indians.  Gandhi desires a united India, even at the cost of offering Jinnah and the Muslim minority full power in the new Indian government.  Nehru disagrees with both propositions.  As Mountbatten and his family adjust to life in India and struggle to achieve a peaceful conclusion to the crisis which confronts them, conflict breaks out across India, and tensions rise.  In addition to focusing on the main storyline of India’s political problems, the movie highlights the struggles that the people of India face during this time by depicting the lives and relationships of the Indian staff which serves in the viceroy’s house.  At first, some of these side characters seem like filler to introduce extra conflict and romance.  Nevertheless, these characters serve an important purpose, for they reveal how India’s political problems affected individuals and everyday life.

Viceroy's House staff
Lord Mountbatten and his family (in the center) with their staff at the viceroy’s house

While a quick perusal of a history book or encyclopedia page will quickly tell the end of the story, Viceroy’s House does more than just narrate events, for it also provides insightful perspectives into what life may have been like for the viceroy, his family, and all the people of India who were affected by the events leading up to and succeeding India’s Independence Day.  The movie thoughtfully touches on the divisions that religion and race wrought in India as Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs saw each other not as united Indians, but as divided races.

Although the film undoubtedly takes liberties with the true story, the fact that the filmmakers consulted Lord Mountbatten’s daughter Pamela and that the director’s grandmother lived through the tragedies following India’s independence lends the film credibility and a sense of personal connection which sets it apart from many historical dramas.  Viceroy’s House vividly brings to life an incredible story with gorgeous details in costumes, sets, music, and cinematography.  More importantly, though, the movie treats its subject seriously and sensitively, as this chapter of history deserves.

 

George & The Werewolf, Pt. 2

Previously on George & The Werewolf

Cold perspiration beaded on George’s brow as he squinted out into the inky night. The moon appeared briefly from behind a smoky cloud, casting a cold sterile light on the rock formations all around him, and then blinked out like a snuffed candle. He listened intently, but the cool whistle of wind between the rocks and his own racing heartbeat were the only sounds that greeted his straining ears. After squatting in silence for what seemed like an eternity at the edge of the crevice, he quietly crept back to the embers of his fire. Pulling a warm blanket around his shoulders, and wiping the sweat from his clammy hands, he set his back against the darkest wall, and resolved to keep watch until morning when it would be safe to move again. As he sat in the gloom, hour after hour creeping by, his mind turned to the horrible sound that had awakened him earlier—and it filled him with a cold dread.

George was not actually his given name. Being a stray from rural Germany, nobody actually knew what his parents had called him, or where they were. He had some memories of life before Mr. Acton, a wealthy merchant from Hessle, had taken him under his wing: brief glimpses of playful romps in the great green forests around his parents’ home, and times spent with nameless childhood friends. He also remembered the day that father had come home worried, and his parents’ hurried discussion was quickly followed by the family retreating from their secluded home to the town church some many miles away. Most of the small town had gathered that night, and he remembered not so much the faces—but the sounds: children whimpering, women pleading, and men both angry and fearful. But then there was THE sound, that terrible howl not quite human or animal, so unnatural it would make the blood of the stoutest human turn to ice. They had called it a ‘werwolf.’ Not many people believed in werewolves, George had found out. Mr. Acton had scoffed at George’s accounts of his childhood terror, and his classmates in school had written it off as attention seeking. Still, even as an adult, he could not escape the memories, and they haunted his steps—especially at night.

As the sky began to change from shades of navy blue to aqua, George stirred slightly beneath his blanket. He hurt all over, back and legs stiffly cramped from a long night without sleep. When he tried to set down his revolver, he realized that his hand had fixed itself around the grip, and only with slow painful motions could he gingerly pry each finger open. He stirred up the fire and put a small can of water on to boil. As he slowly cooked his meal, his mind turned back to the howl he had heard the previous night—it seemed so long ago, like a dream. “Maybe it was just a timber wolf? You let your childhood traumas color everything,” his exhausted mind thought. Staggering to his feet, he was resolved to finish out his contract this day for Mr. Acton, for according to the map he had received before crossing the Atlantic, his destination was very close.

The sun had risen slightly over the peaks of the mountains by the time George finished his breakfast and reloaded all of his gear in his backpack. Stepping out from the crevice, he felt the warmth of yellow light spill over him, and his spirits immediately lifted. Walking briskly, he continued up a narrow rock-fall that cascaded over the side of the cliff-face. Nearing the top, he found a small pool of clear water fed by a spring, and bending down he began to refill his canteen. As he rose and prepared to go—some tracks in the mud caught his eye: they were the tracks of a man, and next to them the tracks of what appeared to be a large wolf.

 

To be continued by Arrietty…

Car Films in Review

There is something appealing about car movies – the thrill of a chase, the growl of an engine, or the elegance of a turn. In that spirit, here is a list (by no means exhaustive) of car movies I have enjoyed.

Bullitt

steve-mcqueens-lost-bullitt-mustang-lede

The film that helped to enshrine the 1968 Ford Mustang as an iconic car in cinema history, I was surprised at how good this film was on its own merits, apart from its famed car chase (starring Steve McQueen!). A slow, brooding sort of film that elects to show more than tell, Bullitt follows detective Frank Bullitt, a police lieutenant tasked to protect a witness for a weekend. Everything unravels from there in what feels like a lighter-than-most noire piece. 4.5/5

Gone in 60 Seconds

gone60seconds

Something about Nicholas Cage movies tends to bring a grin to my face – there’s a goofy, charming undercurrent to many of his movies that I’ve yet to get burnt out on. In this heist film, Nicholas Cage plays Randall Raines, a top-notch car thief who is pulled back into the world of car heists to help a family member. 4/5

Speed Racer

speed-racer

A glitzy, glamorous film based on the anime series of the same name, this movie has a apropos cartoonish-ness to it. Weaving backstory into inventive and seamless montages, Speed Racer tells the story of Speed, a talented driver who dreams of following in the footsteps of his older brother and becoming a legendary racer. Though not a film heavy on plot or character–and occasionally getting bogged down with exposition–Speed Racer manages to wring a lot of fun out of the movie’s many races. 3.5/5

Baby Driver

screen-shot-2017-07-05-at-11-45-15-am

The most recent of the films presented here, this was one of my favorite films of 2017. Combining great car chases with good characterization and a stylish soundtrack, Baby Driver checks all the right boxes for my movie tastes. Baby is a semi-reluctant getaway car driver, and Debra is a waitress at a restaurant. Nothing can keep these two souls apart, except maybe Baby’s career path as a getaway driver. The film centers around the question: can Baby get away from his life as a criminal to live a normal life? With car chases aplenty, this film never drags. 5/5

While there are a bunch of other great car movies I’ve yet to watch, this list gets you up to speed on my latest favorites. From Bullitt to Baby Driver, these films span a variety of genres (though mostly crime-related I suppose?) but have one thing in common: adrenaline-pumping car chases!

Flu Season, or How I Learned to Empathize with Medieval Peasants

It’s a classic trope, arguably immortalized in Monty Python & the Holy Grail: the mob of medieval villagers, blaming all their ills on a supposed witch or some other thing-that-isn’t-germs-because-people-didn’t-know-about-those-then, culminating in a good old-fashioned burning or some other savage, weird act of violence. In these modern, reasonable times, it is sometimes difficult to imagine the mindset of those poor, ignorant peasants, desperately attempting to find a comprehensible, easily eliminated scapegoat for their ills.

That is until, at work, the department next to mine started dropping like flies.

It started quietly enough. First, Workplace Proximity Associate C mysteriously disappeared. Later that day, a strange, foreign “ssshshhhhhkkkkk” sound managed to infiltrate my earbuds, even through the blaring bagpipes of my Celtic punk rock. Removing my earbuds and peeking over the cubicles revealed C’s team members, standing at a distance, spraying Lysol on her desk.

“C has the flu,” they said.

I locked eyes with one of my own department members. We saw the fear mirrored in each other’s gaze. At this point, I merely invested in some handsanitizer.  

Then, Workplace Proximity Associate K got the flu, then Workplace Proximity Associate D, then on down the entire row next to ours. That was when I stole a giant tub of Lysol wipes from the Operations department, and started smearing a protective line of solution around my cube several times a day.

Then, the news: Colleague G, a few rows down to the right, and Colleague N, a few rows to the left, both had strep. That was when I started making protective totems out of paperclips, wrapping them in Lysol wipes and clutching them to my chest whenever any associate of G or N walked by.  

Then, the news that Colleague C2, longtime frequenter of the break room, had had the flu all week, and insisted on remaining at his post. That was when I found myself wishing that leper colonies were still a thing. I also brought a head of garlic to work, which I split into cloves and hung at intervals around my cube. Slightly more reasonably, perhaps, I began using a bathroom and break room on a different floor.

And then, one sunny morning, I heard my closest Workplace Proximity Associate, both literally and metaphorically, cough.

“I can’t be sick,” she said. “I feel fine. Or even if I am, I don’t have that many sick days. I’ll still be at work.”

“I WILL DRIVE YOU OUT OF THIS BUILDING WITH A STICK!” I shrieked. I even drew her a nice little comic of me setting her cubicle on fire. She took it in its stride, as she’s learned to do with me, my increasing number of references to “cleansing flame” notwithstanding.

Then came the news, whispered in terror through the grapevine. “Mark has the stomach bug.”

And that was when I decided I needed to burn down the building.* And also invest in a duck, so I could determine just who was the wicked witch that was causing this particularly vicious cycle of office illness.

 
*Just kidding, HR!