1947. Great Britain has
ruled India for three centuries, but World War II changed everything.
Besides the tide of history favoring the colonies overthrowing
colonial rule, England was just too depleted to maintain its former world
empire. So India is to be
given its independence, and the last appointed Viceroy, Lord Louis
Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville), is sent to oversee the peaceful transition.
The problem is that India is anything but at peace.
The British rule tended to artificially unite three distinct but
disparate factions: Hindu (the
majority religion), Sikh (the equivalent of European Protestantism, a
15th-century breakoff from the Hindus in protest of the caste system), and
Muslim (concentrated largely in the northern and western provinces).
When Lord Mountbatten arrived, he found not a united India, but an
entire subcontinent ready to explode into chaos.
The Hindu faction led by Nehru (Tanveer Ghani), and the Muslim
faction led by Jinnah (Denzil Smith), refused to agree. Not even the great
Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi) could persuade them to present a united front.
Nehru, naturally, wanted a united India under his rule, with the
Muslims consigned to a perpetual minority.
Jinnah wanted no less than an independent state of Pakistan, that
would consist of every province with a majority Muslim population.
(The Sikhs seemed to be left out of the dicussion entirely.) Both
sides, realizing the power vacuum that would follow the British departure,
refused to compromise. Already
riots were beginning throughout the land, and it appeared that the whole
subcontinent was going to plunge into the Abyss of ethnic violence.
Just barely, Lord Mountbatten was able to forge an agreement, that
would, in fact, create a separate Pakistan, but a divided one, with not
nearly the territory Jinnah wanted, but he finally decided that half a
loaf was better than none. Lord
Mountbatten's plan, which bore his name, was not really his ideal, either,
particularly when he discovered that Churchill had basically drawn up the
map before the War even ended, which envisioned Pakistan as a buffer state
to keep the Soviet menace at bay (yes, we started fighting the Cold War
even before the bullets stopped flying).
Lord Mountbatten is shown with a very smart, capable wife, Lady
Edwina (Gillian Anderson), who many times played Sarah listening at the
door of Abraham's tent, inserting herself into the negotiations in a way
most unusual for the 1940's. The
basic conflict is underscored by a kind of Romeo-and-Juliet romance,
between a Muslim aide to Lady Edwina and a Hindu aide to Lord Mountbatten.
It makes for a Downton Abbey/Upstairs/Downstairs kind of feel, but
Director Gurinder Chadha (the granddaughter of one of the many refugees
during that period) is unafraid to cast the struggle into both large-scale
geopolitical and small-scope human terms.
Her depiction of India in 1947 is mesmerizing, from the teeming
streets to the bustling marketplaces to the vestiges of colonialism still
abundantly evident. It's a
great history lesson, but also a good story, well-told.