You may not know her name but you probably know her films. British director Gurinder Chadha is well-known for her hit comedies such as Bend It Like Beckham and Bride & Prejudice.
However, Chadha’s latest film, Viceroy’s House, is a complete departure, taking a serious look at the story of the partition of British India in 1947.
Viceroy’s House traces the steps of the final Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, trying to oversee India being given its independence while handling all the conflict which erupts as the Hindus and Muslims clash.
We caught up with Chadha when she was here in Australia last week and asked her more about the film.
Was Viceroy’s House the film you had to make?
Yes, definitely. It’s very close to my heart because my own family was caught up in these tragic events. It is about my own history from my perspective. It’s my film as an Asian refugee. It’s definitely a film that’s about the human spirit and a way to move forward.
Behind-the-scenes with Gurinda Chadhra (Credit: Kerry Monteen)
Why did you choose Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) to play Lord Mountbatten and Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) to play his wife, Edwina?
I have long admired Gillian Anderson. I just think she can do anything – she’s a very intelligent actress. I sent her the script and she called me a couple of days later and said she wanted to do it.
It was the same with Hugh and I think he did a very good job. Mountbatten wanted to be liked by everybody so I thought Hugh plays that self-deprecating English toff quite well.
Two Indian actors have starring roles in the romance that runs throughout the film. Manish Dayal plays the young Hindu man called Jeet and Huma Qureshi plays Aalia, the young Muslim woman he falls for. What were the reasons you chose these actors?
Well yes, I felt we should get a few more Indian actors out there – not just Dev Patel! I love Dev – I’ve known him for a very long time and I think he did a very good job in Lion but there are other Indian actors you know!
I was happy that Manish came in and I think he did very well. Huma did a great audition and that’s how she got her role.
Viceroy’s House tells the true story of the final months of British rule in India
Many people might not know but as you state at the end of the film, this partition created the largest migration in human history – one million people died and 14 million people were displaced. Was it important for you to show what a major event this was?
Yes, it’s a story for a lot of families and refugees. I think it’s really about geopolitics – what happens to ordinary people when politics and the real business of government happens. I can’t even get a visa to my homeland (Pakistan) anymore and this is very galling to me.
Your earlier film Bend It Like Beckham was extremely successful. Would you ever make a sequel?
It’s such a loved piece and I would say 50 per cent of people ask me that question. But I can’t see it. I just feel it was lovely little moment – an innocent little film. We did the West End Musical of the movie and it allowed us to go back and look at what people loved about it.
Would you ever think of making a movie about the Australian indigenous people and their story?
I think that Australia has had a tremendous capacity to tell some great stories – there’ve been some great movies come out such as The Castle and The Dish. I would truly love to do something about the origins of Australia. I would love to tell that story – I just need someone to write the script for me!
Viceroy’s House will be released in cinemas on May 18.