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Viceroy's House Review: This Partition Tale is Only Partially Engaging

Planning to watch Gurinder Chadha's Viceroy's House this weekend? Read our review first.

Kriti Tulsiani |

Updated:November 1, 2017, 11:30 AM IST
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Huma Qureshi, Manish Dayal, Tanveer Ghani, Denzil Smith

If it’s Gurinder Chadha directing the film, viewers are bound to go expecting a crossover cinema at par with her previous works including Bend It Like Beckham, Bhaji On The Beach and Pride and Prejudice. But the latest offering, Viceroy’s House, doesn’t stand as tall. The film may be one of her most ambitious projects till date, but it’s neither convincing nor engaging enough.

Right at the onset of the film, flashes the Winston Churchill’s famous line, “History was written by the victors”, and soon a British man is seen asking ‘servants’ to work well by saying “acha karo” in a rather forced tone. The film delineates the stay of Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville), the last Viceroy of India, in the country, where he’s sent to overlook the transition of British India to an independent nation, or so he thinks. He’s accompanied by his wife, Lady Edwina Mountbatten (Gillian Anderson) and daughter, Lady Pamela Mountbatten (Lily Travers). All this, at the time when India is facing the brunt of British era’s divide and rule policy and battling episodes of communal violence between Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims.

Aptly titled, the film sheds light on what went on in the Viceroy’s house utilizing the age-old concept of upstairs-downstairs feud – upstairs, inside the conference halls between the political representatives of different interests, and downstairs, through the happenings of the servants’ quarters and their personal lives. While one senses a constant fear and confusion in the minds of Mountbatten and his family as they struggle to forge a nation (or two), free of differences of any kind, and to hand it over to the people, one also sees the unrest disrupting between representatives of different political ideologies including Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (Tanveer Ghani), Mahatma Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi) and Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Denzil Smith).

viceroy's-house0-1Image: Youtube/ A still from Viceroy's House trailer

Meanwhile, in the servant quarters lies the emotional dimension of the film, as an old love story between a Hindu man and a Muslim woman, Jeet Kumar (Manish Dayal) and Alia (Huma Qureshi), rekindles.

Despite a bigger latent frame in mind, the film feels like a mere attempt made to remove traces of blame, whatsoever, resting on the shoulders of Mountbatten in the decision of dividing India. The decorated half history lesson of Mountbatten’s goodwill fails to justify an event as significant as the Partition and in fact, if we may say so, makes the Indian leaders’ motives look rather facile. As a viewer, you'll understand and follow the narrative, but won't be seeped into it. One may feel a slight despair here and there but the true angst and anguish of a nation coming to blows seem a far-fetched dream.

Hugh Bonneville, the popular Downton Abbey star, delivers what he’s meant to in the shoes of a helpless but well-intentioned last Viceroy of India. In fact, a particular scene, wherein he orders two Indians to dress him in two minutes, makes one of the finest in the film. While Denzil as Jinnah comes across as too villainous, Tanveer as Nehru feels too animated. Considering that both these historical figures are regarded for their oratory skills, the casting, perhaps is what went wrong here. Gandhi, played by Kabi, is also only partially riveting except for one scene where he asks Mountbatten to taste his goat curd.

While Jeet and Alia’s tale tugs you at times, the fact that it hasn’t been tapped to its full potential feels disheartening. The performances of the two, however, are noteworthy. Manish delivers an honest and endearing act all throughout and Huma does as much as is expected out of the character. The late Om Puri, who plays Alia’s blind father in the film, seems out of purpose. But that, not for once, confines his acting prowess.

viceroy-house-2Image: Youtube/ A still from Viceroy's House trailer

Named Partition: 1947 in Hindi, the lowest point of the film perhaps lies in its theme. A card, if played well on, can make many recall all that they left behind, all those they lost and all that reminds them of the lives they once had, hasn't been dealt the way it should have.

Viceroy’s House feels like an honest attempt, but not resounding enough. The film is engaging, but only partially.


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*Rental/capacity fee of Rs. 130/- as charged by cable/DTH operator may apply. **GST extra.
| Edited by: Kriti Tulsiani
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