Interview:What the end of the British Empire in India can teach Donald Trump

Could anyone apart from Gurinder Chadha have made the extremely genteel but very watchable Viceroy’s House? The story of Indian partition through a Downton-esque lens, it surely belongs to the first British Asian woman to have a feature film release, and the recurrent theme in her work is the difficulty of possessing a foot in both camps; both British and Asian.

“I knew I should have been making this film all my life really,” she admits, “but I never really had the courage to tackle such a massive subject and do it in a way that would be accessible.”

Viceroy’s House stars Gillian Anderson and Hugh Bonneville as the semi-royal but progressive Lord and LadyMountbatten, who come to India to oversee its orderly exit from the British Empire over two years. But it’s hardly an advert for any kind of political exit, as hatred between two religious factions dictate the country splits into India and Pakistan.

Viceroy's House/PATHE  

Viceroy's House/PATHE

 

An Indian person couldn’t have made it, nor a British person, nor someone from Pakistan. It had to be made from someone who has an insight into both countries.” Gurinder Chadha

It is however, a wonderful advert for any kind of Downton film even if Hugh Bonneville hadn’t been in it, and the director puts up with the comparisons with good grace, as the chances are that without the insatiable international appetite for imperial history, this would never have been made.

“There’s definitely a desire for British period drama around the world,” the director agrees. “But this is told from a British Asian perspective and that gives it an unique and different narrative. An Indian person couldn’t have made it, nor a British person, nor someone from Pakistan. It had to be made from someone who has an insight into both countries.”

Gurinder Chadha/IMDB

Gurinder Chadha/IMDB

Seven years ago there wasn’t a reality TV star in the White House. Obama was in power, there was no Syrian refugee crisis, no Brexit, no Donald Trump.“The fact it’s so relevant today has taken us all by surprise and it’s a timely reminder of what happens when politicians use division to divide and rule." Gurinder Chadha

Gurinder Chadha was born in Kenya before her family moved to Southall, West London. Her dilemma, but also her love, for both of her cultures, is displayed in all her best-known works – Bend It like Beckham, Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, Bride and Prejudice. But these explore the part a British Asian woman has to play in society. Viceroy’s House’s is a political drama, albeit one cocooned in the film’s romance of two young, star-crossed lovers from both sides of the political divide.

Will they be showing it in the White House’s Sunday afternoon film club? They ought to, she thinks, unafraid to rattle Viceroy’s House fine bone china cups in the new President’s direction.

“It took seven years to make,” she says, “and I see now it’s out at this time for a reason. Seven years ago there wasn’t a reality TV star in the White House. Obama was in power, there was no Syrian refugee crisis, no Brexit, no Donald Trump.

“The fact it’s so relevant today has taken us all by surprise and it’s a timely reminder of what happens when politicians use division to divide and rule to scapegoat one community against another.

Viceroy’s House is in UK and Ireland cinemas now. It will be released in Germany, India and the USA later in 2017.