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Expect to be bored, and confused: Viceroy’s House review by Rashid Irani

What the film doesn’t misrepresent, it trivialises. History could really have done without this retelling.

movie reviews Updated: Aug 17, 2017 13:58 IST
Rashid Irani
Rashid Irani
Hindustan Times
History,Historical drama,1947
The film would have been more or less unwatchable if not for Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson in the lead roles.
  • Direction: Gurinder Chadha
  • Actors: Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson
  • Rating: 1.5 / 5

The intention seems sincere, but this historical drama about the 1947 partitioning of the British Indian Empire is weighted down by a verbose script, leaden direction and a tacked-on fictional romance straight out of a Z-grade Bollywood melodrama.

More inept than inspiring, Viceroy’s House monotonously sets about depicting the political and religious schisms that led to the division of the country into two independent nations.

The primary setting is the palatial titular mansion, which served as the seat of government as well as the residence of Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville).

The last viceroy to serve in India, he has been dispatched to New Delhi to oversee the transition to self-rule of India and the newly founded state of Pakistan.

Mountbatten has his work cut out for him, amid escalating tensions between the populations and the new leadership — Jawaharlal Nehru (Tanveer Ghani), Mahatma Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi) and Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Denzel Smith).

The handsome production design stands out. The same cannot be said for the Indian ensemble cast — with the singular exception of the late Om Puri.

Curiously, there are no allusions to the alleged affair between Lady Mountbatten (Gillian Anderson, impressive) and Nehru.

Unable to rise to the challenge of conveying the complexities of this time in our history, director Gurinder Chadha ends up trivialising the struggles of the people on both sides of the new divide.

The pat resolution to the ‘impossible’ relationship between the Hindu valet (Manish Dayal) and the Muslim lady-in-waiting (Huma Qureshi) is indicative of the tendency to sentimentalise issues of vital importance.

The handsome production design (courtesy Laurence Dorman) is offset by an overwrought background music score by AR Rahman, who needs to reinvent himself.

With the singular exception of the late Om Puri as the blind father, the rest of the Indian ensemble is unremarkable.

The tacked-on fictional romance between a Hindu valet (Manish Dayal) and Muslim lady-in-waiting (Huma Qureshi) is straight out of a Z-grade Bollywood melodrama.

On the other hand, there are terrific supporting turns by British stalwarts Simon Callow (who plays the reluctant official in charge of mapping the Indo-Pak territories) and Michael Gambon, as the Machiavellian General Hastings.

The premise remains pertinent in the current conflicted global situation. Unfortunately, Viceroy’s House is a less-than-compelling account of the strife-torn last days of the Raj.

For those who might be interested, a dubbed version in Hindi, titled Partition: 1947, is also being released this week.

First Published: Aug 17, 2017 13:58 IST