1947: Partition Movie Review: Gurinder Chadha’s Partition Epic Serves Up Delicate But Powerful Drama!

Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi, Om Puri

Directed by: Gurinder Chadha

Rating: **** ½(4 and a half stars)

At the  end  of Gurinder Chadha’s breatakingly beautiful parable on political propensity , we are told that  the director’s grandmother was one  of  thousands of victims  of the savagery that followed the Partition  of India into two sloppy badly-cut halves.

Thankfully 1947 :Partition (Viceroy’s House in English) is neither sloppy nor badly cut. Far from it. There is a delicacy and exquisiteness to the storytelling missing in Gurinder Chadha’s recent works specially  the hideous It’s  A Wonderful Afterlife.

And yes this tale of history’s anomalies is also whodunit. Winston Churchill did it. He  was responsible  for the Partition  of  India.

There, I said it. Gurinder Chadha agrees.

There is a wonderful after-glow to this tale that lingers long after  it is over. Hugely  verbose and yet not the least weighed down by the constant exchange of political rhetorics, this is a film  that revels  in the its tender moments as  much as in its power subcontinental message on what happens  to a nation when  it is divided by the supposedly enlightened Colonists called in to save humanity from damnation.

The elegantly-crafted saga  unfolds on two levels of political  intrigue. On one level we have  Lord Mountbatten(the judiciously cast Hugh Bonneville) and his sagacious  wife Lady Edwina(Gillian Anderson) arriving in India to sort out the mess that the Britishers have created over 300 years. On  the other native level, a fantasty-fuelled romance unfolds between a  Hindu orderly Jeet(Manish Dayal) and a Muslim girl Alia(Huma Qureshi) working for theMountbattens.They have a  history. So does the film.

While the  map-changing politics  of  the Mountbattens  conveys a certain strength and power of its own, it is the Alia-Jeet love story that had me gripped. The idea of love during times of  ravage and war is very David  Leanish. That Chadha manages to pull it off is entirely due to her closeness to the trauma that defined India’s division into two messy halves. Yet, Chadha is able to pull back from the trauma and give it  a hue of dispassionate humour and warmth.And yes, also a feeling of political correctness.

The film is superbly shot by cinematographer Ben Smithard whose lenses explore the wide vistas not for impressive  visuals  but to seek out the human face of a political tragedy so immense that  it continues to resonate on the politics of the two countries.

One of  the many pleasures of watching Gurinder Chadha’s Partition tale—easily her best work since the career-defining Bend It LikeBeckham—is to take in the talented cast’s character-assuming expertise . Hugh Bonneville lacks the magnetic charm  of  the real Mountbatten. But he more than makes up for it with his understanding  of  the anguished dilemma that Mountbatten went through.

But it’s Gillian Anderson’s Edwina Mountbatten who in many ways, holds the plot together. As played by this accomplished actress Edwina comes across as compassionate, caring and  politically well-informed.

In brief the perfect Lady Mountbatten.

Can’t express the same level of satisfaction watching the actors playing distinguished political leaders . Specially disappointing is the  usually-brilliant Neeraj Kabi’s hammy Mahatma Gandhi. Every time he  opened his mouth I squirmed. Made me miss Darshan Jariwala’s Gandhi in Feroz Abbas Khan’s film. Darshan by the way, has a minuscule  role in this  film suffused with characters who walk in and out of a crisis that  not even God could resolve.

Om Puri in a relatively minor role is , his usual impressive self(God, how we miss him!).  But among  the Indian actors  it is Manish Dayaland Huma Qureshi who stand out with their supple  interpretation of  love over the religious divide. This is Huma’s best performance to date.

Chadha is specially skilled at putting forward the sudden flare-ups of temper among Mountbatten’s staff .Specially shocking is Muslim staff member spitting on and hitting his elderly White senior. Chadha sees the  tragic waste  of  the Partition in such incidents.She waltzes over the  welters of history’s lessons  creating a  fabulous pastiche of pain and passion without tripping over into either emotional condition.

This is a history lesson well served and waiting to be seen.

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