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.
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.
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.