The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect South Asia Scene’s editorial policy.
The film starts off with a controversial but ultimately correct assertion that India was being given its independence by the British after the latter had exhausted itself from World War 2. Others may argue about the importance of Gandhi, Nehru and the rest of the independence movement but in reality if they really had gained independence themselves, they would have had it years, if not decades before. The short flashes of anger when the Indians turned against the British rulers but then did not go all the way shows a glimpse of how they could have outnumbered and chased the British out of the country if they really wanted independence earlier.
Principal characters in the film were portrayed accurately, at least in my opinion. Gandhi was a well meaning and peaceful but slightly odd independence campaigner; Nehru was an English-educated, posh but slightly lame British ally; Jinnah was a slightly manipulating but cunning political power player, and Mountbatten and his wife were well meaning Viceroy and Lady out of their depth in an extremely complicated country. Sure Jinnah might have got the brunt of the negative portrayal but it was not too far from the truth. Nonetheless the interaction between all these characters made for an intriguing period of political power playing and diplomacy-much as it was in reality.
The other principal characters were the fictional Jeet Kumar and Aalia. While they were interesting characters and served to focus on the growing Hindu Muslim animosity in the wake of Partition, in my opinion the film focused too much on their love story. This is logical and understandable in a Gurinder Chadha film but I felt it distracted from the story too much in this context.
The most interesting and new aspect of the film was the exploration of the idea that the British had already planned to partition India 2 years before in 1945, to have Pakistan serve as a bulwark against the expanding Soviet Union and their likely ally in India. As Mountbatten put it explicitly in the film, this assertion claimed that Partition was motivated by Britain’s aim to continue access to oil-another play in the so called Great Game. While this seems to verge on a conspiracy theory the sad truth is that these decisions have happened frequently throughout history and continue to do so. Indeed access to oil is still a strong motivator to many political and diplomatic decisions to this day. Furthermore Jinnah had first proposed the idea of Pakistan back in 1940. While it cannot be confirmed, it is certainly a historical theory to be explored.
I felt the film could have focused more on the actual effects of partition across the whole country. While I understand that the film was focused on Mountbatten and all the goings on in Viceroys House, the reports of riots and death across the country were only passed on in hearsay and it created a sense of disconnect throughout the film. Similarly the abrupt ending of the film in the midst of the refugee crisis of 1947 caught me off guard and left me feeling the film ended on a cliff-hanger.
In conclusion I feel the film was good in portraying all players and people as accurately as possible. The British were portrayed as the racist, slightly evil tired rulers, the Indian people were portrayed as divided and desperate for freedom and the story went much as it went in real life-the new partition theory aside.
On a sad note and reality check I want to point out that the film shows that even in 70 years a lot in India has unfortunately stayed the same. Animosity between different groups in India still remains and occasionally erupts into violence; there is still a huge use of people as servants-the only difference is their masters are fellow Indians rather than the British and India is still plagued by the huge problems of poverty and malnutrition that continue to blight the vast subcontinent. Furthermore, Jinnah’s fears of a minority Muslim population being overrun and discriminated by a Hindu majority government is exactly what is happening in India today under Modi, even after the creation of majority Muslim states in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Partition was carried out with the main aim of preventing that but it seems that is going to happen anyway. It makes you wonder that while there are valid criticisms of the whole Partition idea, whether the situation would have been much better if it did not happen.
- Rayhan Chouglay