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Stop Quibbling About The ‘Accuracy’ Of Gurinder Chadha’s ‘Viceroy House’

Sometimes the message is more than a sum total of the facts.

19/06/2017 8:40 AM IST | Updated 19/06/2017 3:21 PM IST
Michele Tantussi / Reuters
Actor Manish Dayal (L-R), actress Gillian Anderson, director and screenwriter Gurinder Chadha and actress Huma Qureshi arrive for the screening of the movie 'Viceroy' s House' at the 67th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, February 12, 2017.

Gurinder Chadha's Viceroy's House has had multiple reviews written about it from different standpoints, like any period movie. Hence, I decided to not let myself read any reviews before watching the film.

One can say the story is good or bad, rightly or wrongly portrayed. But those are judgments that can be made for any story based on true incidents. One can invoke "facts" and try to compare the events of the film against these, but who decides how close or far from reality the depiction is? The people involved in the actual incident are not there to defend themselves or comment on it at all. So when people quote historical facts to review such movies, my mind wants to question, where are we getting the facts from?

The only question I would ask watching a period movie is: how is the moviemaker contributing to today's state of affairs by telling the story from this perspective?

History is storytelling. And it really depends on whose perspective the story is being told from. Because truth is they can do all the research they can, but filmmakers are not historians! They are storytellers. So why do we expect them to be 100% accurate when it is a matter of perspective? Rather than focusing on "accuracy", the only question I would ask watching a period movie is: how is the moviemaker contributing to today's state of affairs by telling the story from this perspective?

For example, take the Hindu epic Ramayana. There are several versions and the most "authentic" ones are said to be those written by Valmiki and Tulsi Das. Both versions are different. One looks at Ram as an incarnation of god and the other as Ram the man who was perfect. Now neither Valmiki nor Tulsi Das were historians. As for how accurate or not they were... is that a question we even need to be asking? They were teachers; they were masters who were teaching valuable lessons on the deepest truths of existence through their writings. The question we should be asking ourselves is, are we learning that lesson? (paraphrased from Swami Chinmayananda's DVD, FAQs).

So coming back to Viceroy's House—let's ask the same question. Is the movie contributing to society? Why did Chadha make the movie? I got an answer to the latter question when I read Gurinder Chadha's piece on what she wanted to convey. I understood that she wanted to capture the impact of Partition on families such as hers. And while the love story at the centre of the film was rather too cheesy and cringeworthy for my personal taste, I think Chadha did a pretty good job of telling her story—and that of Partition—to not just India but to an international audience that may never even have been aware of this historical turning point.

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