Director Gurinder Chadha, a Sikh whose family once lived in Kenya, is a British citizen with an honour like the Order of The British Empire in her cap, which also boasts of a remarkable work like Bend It Like Beckham in 2002. The film follows the life of an 18-year-old Sikh girl in England, whose passion for football and infatuation for David Beckham are strongly opposed by her family. She is a girl, and she cannot play football - a kind of prejudice we saw even recently in Dangal. Chadha -- who has been exploring through her cinema the lives of Indian women in the UK and their dilemma over trying to balance tradition with modernity - is now developing a movie about an Indian woman who was a kind of Mata Hari. It will be a plot of espionage set in 1943, Chadha told the media at the ongoing Berlin International Film Festival, where she presented her latest movie, Viceroy’s House, set during the blood-soaked times of the 1947 Partition.
Chadha’s work-to-come, Song for a Spy, will unfold in France and Germany, in the heat of World War II. Scripted by Farrukh Dhondy, the history, according to the director, may be well known, but will be narrated from a very different angle.
Returning to Viceroy’s House, it stars the late Om Puri and Huma Qureshi, and has music by AR Rahman. It will be dubbed in Hindi by Reliance. Both the English and Hindi versions will be released simultaneously in India - and maybe in Pakistan as well.
A Screen review had some good things to say about Viceroy’s House: “With this ambitious account of the backstage manipulation and human cost of Partition, Gurinder Chadha tackles a bigger canvas than previously. She meets the challenge with flair - Viceroy’s House, with its jostling below-stairs tensions and colonial gamesmanship is an accessible blend of a Merchant Ivory period piece with the political edge of Amma Assante’s A United Kingdom. The contrast between the brittle propriety of the British social events and the simmering tensions at an Indian engagement party is nicely handled.
“A Hindu - Muslim romance at the heart of the story is too neatly schematic to fully persuade as anything other than a narrative device, but the use of the microcosm of the last Viceroy’s household staff as a window into the broader tensions facing India is effective.
“The whole of the sub-continent waits to see how Mountbatten will manage the transition. And through the five hundred or so household staff, a mix of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh, we see the tensions that threaten to wrench the country apart played out on a small scale. On the front line is Jeet, who is reunited with the Muslim girl he fell in love with two years previously. Aalia (Huma Qureshi), who also works closely with the Mountbatten family, is torn between her love for Jeet and her sense of duty to her blind father (the late Om Puri)... The score, by AR Rahman, is also impressive - the sturdy Western orchestral motifs gradually give way to wistful Indian influences as the date for independence draws closer”
The question - yes all over again - will Viceroy’s House get an easy window in India, given the kind political mood that we now see.
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