Written by Manisha Lakhe
Love In The Time Of Partition
Director Gurinder Chaddha shares her story of the partition setting it in the heart of politics: inside the house of the last Viceroy of India. It is a touching tale of one of the greatest human tragedies, a shameful part of our history, told in a very personal way. The film is beautifully shot, well acted and brilliantly directed. A must watch.
In dividing a country before leaving, what motive did the British have? We’ve studied history and there have been many, many melodramas and jingoistic films made on the subject of the Partition. Critics in the West have complained about how skewed the vision of the director is when it comes to history. But as a storyteller Gurinder Chaddha excels. Her story is personal, and when the end credits roll, and you see how personal, your jaws fall to the floor.
Viceroy’s House is grand, so grand that the outgoing lady of the house does not know how many people serve, ‘Over five hundred?’ she muses. War-rationing has made meat a rare treat and when Edwina and Pamela Mountbatten discover a cloche that has the most delectable chicken prepared specially for the family dog, Gurinder Chaddha offers you one of the most amazing scenes that is at once humorous and at once poignant.
Yes, there’s a love story of a young lad Jeet Kumar (played beautifully by Manish Dayal) and Aalia (the luminescent Huma Qureshi). We know this gentle romance seems to be doomed because of the history unfolding around them, the scene where their fingers touch, is perhaps the finest romantic moments one has seen on the screen. Nothing loud about it. Just romance that takes your breath away.
There are many such moments where you feel the director’s deft touch. The quiet friendship between Duleep Singh and Jeet Kumar, when Guptaji passes his handkerchief to the aide-de-camp after he has been spat upon, every time Jeet Kumar wants to speak of his love for Aalia to the brilliant Om Puri who plays her blind father, how Edwina (the marvelous Gillian Anderson, so uncannily real you are taken aback) looks at Nehru when he’s putting his best argument forward at the party…
You are meant to be horrified at the viciousness that bubbles up to the surface at the slightest of provocation. You understand why some people would dream the dream that Jinnah (played with conviction by Denzil Smith) promised them. You will be angry with Mohsin who cannot give up his religious identity. Your heart will break at the division of books from the library and cutlery from the Viceroy’s kitchen after the announcement of partition. Your heart will break when you realise that the head chef chooses to be in India and the sous chef chooses Pakistan. Your heart will rise up to your throat when you see Om Puri finally realising that Jeet Kumar really loves his daughter…
Yes, the end is a tad melodramatic, what with the microphone and all, but despite everything, when the black and white photographs accompany the end credits, you will realise how this film is a personal account of that time, and not a record of history. You come away with a sense of belonging. And also a question: If another Partition were to divide the nation today, would the separation be civil or just as bloody and horrendous?
(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)