FILMMAKER Gurinder Chadha, who has been nursing a bruised back, is laying down on a leather sofa with her head supported by two fluffy cushions when we meet her in a suburban Mumbai hotel. Yet, as we start talking about the India release of her next movie Partition: 1947, which was titled internationally as Viceroy’s House, she can hardly contain her excitement. “Have you watched the new trailer meant for the India release? You must,” insists Chadha, who is in India to promote the film. The film, which premiered at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival and generated mixed reviews, is expected to release in the country on August 11.
Effortlessly switching between Punjabi and English, the UK-based writer-director says that she adopted “the upstairs-downstairs method” of storytelling for this film.
“I wanted to tell the story of ordinary people as well as focus on the role of the British officials and Indian leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and others. This device helped me to combine that. As things were discussed and negotiated upstairs, we see their impact on ordinary folks,” says the 57-year-old. Significant to the film’s plot is the love affair between Aalia (Huma Qureshi), a translator to the Viceroy, and Jeet (Manish Dayal), a Hindu-Punjabi boy. When the Partition looms large over the lovers, neither knows where to go and what to choose. “The love story is over when the movie starts. She has moved away and he is looking for her,” Chadha adds.
Chadha, who was born in Kenya and grew up in the UK, has often spoken about “living in the shadow of the Partition”. The families of her parents, who came from Rawalpindi and Jhelum, were displaced in 1947. “When I was a young girl, my maternal grandmother came to live with us in the UK. While watching TV, she would get very upset when one particular actor appeared. He was tall with big bushy eyebrows. ‘Band karo isko, yeh pathan hai,’ she would scream,” recalls Chadha.
Growing up in England, Chadha was aware that she did not have an ancestral homeland. “I was born in Kenya but it was not my home. Neither was India. London is my home. In 2008, when I made the BBC documentary, Who Do You Think You Are, I went to Pakistan to trace my roots. That moment, I thought I needed to do something more,” she adds.
Though being rootless haunted her, the filmmaker believes that she has got a unique bicultural identity. “I can be very Indian if I want to. Similarly, I can be very English if I want to. I am in that unique space. I can make films which will appeal to people living in small villages of the UK and India,” she says, adding that she tells stories which bring people together. “That’s one of the reasons why Bend It Like Beckham (2002) was popular and it released after 9/11. We are living in a world where many people are trying to separate us,” she says.
Earlier this year, Chadha, referring to US President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, had said that he should watch Viceroy’s House to learn about the tragic events and their resonance in today’s world. “In a way, we are living in turbulent times globally. We live in a democracy. Everyone can speak and have their opinion,” she says.
Viceroy’s House came under criticism from Pakistani author Fatima Bhutto who said that she watched “this servile pantomime and wept” and called the movie “a glossy imperial version of the Partition”. In response, Chadha says, “Bhutto has every right to not like the film. But she misrepresented the film. That was not right. Interestingly, a British Muslim woman novelist (Sufiya Ahmed) wrote a piece saying that Fatima’s attack on me should be seen as an attack on British-Asians. Anyway, the film ended up getting some publicity.”
Meanwhile, Chadha is likely to pack her bags for Hollywood soon. “I have been offered an action movie, something I have never done before. Par kya kaun yaar, do bachchon ki ma hoon (But what to do, I am a mother of two children). I am going to meet the producers in America and see if there is a way of setting it in the UK,” she says.
Even as her company is trying to develop a number of TV projects, including a historical period drama based on Maharaja Dalip Singh, Chadha is likely to direct a movie that highlights the issue of female infanticide. That apart, after the West End-run of musical adaptation of Bend It Like Beckham with 16 songs, it is going to open in North America soon with a fresh cast.