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British director Gurinder Chadha sees parallels between current events like Brexit and U.S. President Trump’s election and the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent, which she dramatized in her latest movie, Viceroy’s House.
“This film is a timely reminder of what happens when you promote hate and division and start to criminalize a group of people. The end result is violence and death,” Chadha told a press conference on Sunday at the Berlin Film Festival, where the movie screens out of competition.
The British filmmaker said her film, about the turbulent final days of British rule in India in 1947, is debuting in Berlin when “the politics of hate and division are so prevalent and are defining not just America at the moment, but here in Europe, in France, Germany and Britain, with the rise of populism and the rise of the right.”
Chadha recalled events like the Brexit referendum and the U.S. presidential campaign and election affecting the making of Viceroy’s House, which was seven years in the making. “When we were shooting the film, Syria was happening, and on a day we were shooting scenes with a thousand extras as refugees, that morning the little boy had been found washed up on the beach,” she said, recalling the young boy, Aylan Kurdi, who drowned as his Syrian family attempted to reach Greece. “So we were viewing these images on our phones and here we were with refugees 70 years later,” Chadha said.
The British director was equally moved by the U.K.’s referendum vote to leave the EU. “Suddenly something we never imagined would happen, happened, and we were dealing with our own partition,” she recalled. Chadha pointed up the irony of Viceroy’s House having its world premiere in Berlin, “a city that knows about being partitioned.”
The upside from today’s political tumult, she argued, is a backlash against politics of division. “The good side of what’s happening for me is people are rising up, people are being politicized, young people are being politicized,” Chadha told the press in Berlin.
Her hopeful message was echoed by her cast, including Hugh Bonneville, who plays Lord Mountbatten in Viceroy’s House, alongside Gillian Anderson as his wife. “Despite this backdrop of seismic shifts, both in humanitarian need and human dislocation, there are seeds of hope and even in these ghastly times, we come onto two people finding each other and building a future,” Bonneville said, alluding to the movie’s surprise ending.
Bollywood actress Huma Qureshi, who makes her Hollywood debut with Viceroy’s House, agreed that the film wanted to leave the audience with a message of hope. “In this world, which is increasingly becoming right-wing and about pushing the other out as we become us and them, humanity and love can triumph in the end,” she said.
Manish Dayal, who plays Jeet, an idealistic character in the film, pointed to parallels between the Indian partition and today’s backlash against right-wing populism. “As an American right now, we are experiencing what many of us like to call a resistance movement,” he said. “It’s about actively protesting and actively working to celebrate inclusion.”
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