Viceroy’s House (2017) starring Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Michael Gambon, Simon Callow, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, & Huma Qureshi

SPOILERS: Don’t read this post if you haven’t seen, or don’t want to know, details from this movie (now showing in wide release in the US).

[1] If you saw something similar in a high school world history class it would be interesting and effective. As a theatrical movie it misses the mark.

[2] ...as history, it is inevitably selective. Most glaring is the benign portrait of a compassionate departing colonial power.

[3] It’s interesting to see, but it’s by no means a cinematic masterclass.

[4] What could have been an epic, ends up being too pedestrian. It is this failure in character development which pulls the film down harder than all the other negative factors combined.

[5] A special mention needs to go to Gillian Anderson. Her performance as Lady Mountbatten is wonderful. The received pronunciation was perfect. Her character adds heart, she adds a moral core, to both Lord Mountbatten, and in my eyes, to the film in general.

-Excerpts from reviews on IMDB

I saw this movie (ONLY available in SD- ugh) last night on FIOS On Demand. I had been anticipating it for almost 3 mos, so was VERY excited. (American actor Manish Dayal was posting bits about it on his social media.) I was a big fan of Bend it Like Beckham, British director Gurinder Chadha’s breakout indie hit. I thought her Thanksgiving-themed film (What’s Cooking?) was pretty good. The posters didn’t appeal to me- TOO slick and stereotypical of a historical drama. I liked the trailers that I saw; the high production value was evident (which viewers expect from this caliber of film).

Sadly, Viceroy’s House was NOT what I expected. After it ended, I wondered: “There MUST have been MORE to this film!” It seems edited down (to a mere 1 hr 46 mins); however, it seems longer b/c of it’s plodding nature (at least in the first half). Maybe it needs to be seen on the big screen (for its sheer scope and spectacle)? Or maybe it would’ve been better as a miniseries or movie on HBO (where directors and writers have more creative control)? MANY critics/viewers felt that Hugh Bonneville was miscast as Lord Louis Mountbatten. Hmmm… maybe it’s TOO close to his role as head of Downton Abbey? Gillian Anderson (who plays Lady Edwina) is given some of the best lines in the movie; she does well w/ in her role. (You should check Anderson out in British work, incl. The Fall on Netflix.)

The veteran actors who play Nehru (Tanveer Ghani), Jinnah (Denzil Smith), and Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi) do what they can w/ what they are given. Basically, they sit around and debate w/ the Brits on if and how to divide India and the new Muslim majority nation- Pakistan. Some of you know that Gandhi didn’t want India divided; he imagined a land where ALL religions live together in peace (as before the Brits arrived and used their “divide and conquer” strategy to rule). Some Pakistanis were NOT pleased w/ the portrayal of Jinnah, who comes off as duplicitous.

Michael Gambon plays Gen. Ismay, a cold/intimidating man who doesn’t care what happens to the Indian people. He wants to get the boundaries created ASAP and get back to England. Simon Callow ‘s overwhelmed character, Radcliffe, says that it’s impossible to make these decisions in such a short time frame. Ismay finally shows him a plan from 1945 which already lays out exactly how India and Pakistan should be divided (NOT sure how accurate this is in reality)!

The recently deceased international Indian actor, Om Puri, has a small, yet effective/touching role. (He played Dayal’s father in The Hundred-Foot Journey). In this film, Puri plays Ali Rahim Noor, the blind/elderly father of Aalia (Pakistani actress Huma Qureshi), the Muslim woman who has captured the heart of Dayal’s character, Jeet Kumar. Ali Rahim was a political prisoner in the jail where Jeet worked for 2 yrs as a guard. Now, Jeet is a manservant (alongside his Sikh friend, Duleep Singh) for Mountbatten. As Dayal has said, Jeet represents the Hindu perspective in the film. He is an earnest/optimistic young man who feels that his destiny is to marry Aalia.

One of the servants (among 500+ in the viceroy’s household) who stirs up trouble is Mohsin (Samrat Chakraborti, an American actor/musician whose career I’ve been following since 2005). He also has a crucial role in Midnight’s Children (check Netflix to see if it’s still available). Another pleasant surprise is the original music by A.R. Rahman, an internationally recognized composer. I thought he did a esp. fine job in the last section of the film, when we see large crowds of refugees streaming into the palatial estate.

Related Videos

Two (differing) reviews of the film

BBC interview w/ Chadha (12:16)

BUILD Series interview w/ Chadha & Ghani (34:29)

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The Big Sick (2017) starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, & Ray Romano

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the movie (now in wide release).

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The amazing part of this movie is that it deals with deeply serious complex issues, but does so with humor and grace. The screenplay is remarkable and nuanced…

The screenplay for this quirky, clever, and (sometimes) emotional rom com was written by its Pakistani immigrant lead actor (Kumail Nanjiani from Silicon Valley) and his American-born wife (Emily V. Gordon); it is based (partly) on their real-life love story. Emily is played by Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of the famed director, Elia Kazan); her character falls into a coma mid-way through the movie. Kumail’s love of video games and admiration of Hugh Grant (esp. his hairstyle) are noted; he mentioned these points in various interviews. This is NOT the typical rom com (thank goodness!)- it’s a LOT more realistic (“awkward” is a term used in promos), it includes people of color (POC), and is easy to relate to (esp. for second-generation desis and/or Muslims). 

Veteran actors, Holly Hunter (who I really enjoy watching) and Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond) play Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry. Kumail’s father is played by a veteran Bollywood comedian, Anupam Kher, who also played the patriarch on the British film Bend it Like Beckham; he acts in both Hindi and English. Kumail’s friends from the comedy world get rather meaty roles for this genre; they are Aidy Bryant (SNL), Bo Burnham, and Kurt Braunholer. Fans of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore may recognize Indian-born model-turned-actress, Shenaz Treasury, who plays Fatima, Kumail’s sister-in-law. 

One may be tempted to say Kumail’s family are the antagonists of the story. This might be true if one is trying to parse out this or that or the other with the characters, but this is over-simplification. They are an obstacle for Kumail, but really his biggest enemy is himself, how he views what his family has put on him, what his own culture has done to his mind, and at the same time reconciling with being a modern American given all the relative opportunities everyone else has. 

In the break-up scene, Kumail declares: “I’m fighting over 1,400 years of tradition! You were just ugly in high school!” after Emily finds the cigar box filled w/ pics of eligible women. Yes, indeed he is fighting something (baggage, anyone?)- he doesn’t believe in Islam (pretends to pray in his parents’ basement), drinks alcohol (a no-no for devout Muslims), and is hiding his relationship from his family (NOT healthy). I think that ALL of us in the desi diaspora have family, friends, or everyday acquaintances who have gone through something like this! Jhumpa Lahiri (who is an Indian-American/Hindu) wrote about some of the same themes in The Namesake; the film (which contains some Bengali language- cool) was quite good also. 

The tonal shifts might seem extreme at first, but they gradually cement a powerful narrative that makes for a lot of laughs, but also becomes bittersweet and endearing without resorting to a hint of sentimentality.

Now, a few of you may have read the criticism re: how “brown women” are portrayed in this film; I scanned over 3 opinion pieces so far. I was worried about this (before I saw it), however, a desi woman could NOT be the lead of this story b/c it was re: Kumail’s life. It’s obvious that Fatima and Naveed, Kumail’s older brother, have a loving relationship (which was arranged). Also, the single women who come to dinner are ALL of different looks and personalities, from a curvy Pakistani sci fi nerd, an American-raised waif (who speaks Urdu), and Khadija (Vela Lovell- who is Caucasian and Indian in reality). This American actress is part of the ensemble cast on CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a quirky comedy where she plays the slacker neighbor of Rebecca, the lead character. In an alternate world, Khadija and Kumail could have worked (as they have some chemistry), BUT he was already deeply in love w/ Emily. Are there stereotypes in this film? Yes, there are some present, BUT there are also subtle touches (where MOST of the characters are humanized).

Sure, there needs to be stories of desis/Muslims getting together, BUT we need artists to write those tales, funds to produce, and an audience which will be receptive to such stories. Remember that NOT all American desis (yes, even those here for decades) approve of dating and “love marriage.” Sometimes the singles (as adults, of course) need to find the inner strength to go after the type of relationship that they want and maintain it, even in times of adversity. Arranged marriage is NOT guaranteed to be a succes, BUT love doesn’t always last forever either. Let’s write our own stories OR support creative types from communities of color (NOT just our own)! Dwelling solely on negativity gets us nowhere. 

Private Mohammed Kahn: Civil War Soldier

Wow, this is an AMAZING (and rare) discovery!

NARAtions

Today’s post comes from Kate Mersiovsky, National Archives Technician

Since I’ve become an archives technician in the Innovation Hub Scanning Room at the National Archives, I’ve seen my fair share of interesting records. Researchers have digitized the pension of presidential widow Lucretia Garfield, the pension of Harriet Tubman, and the Supreme Court cases In Re Gault and U.S. v. Edith Windsor. Recently one of my fellow technicians, Jesse Wilinski, found another unique record- the pension file for Mohammed Kahn, a Muslim soldier who served in the Civil War.

It is rare to find records of Muslim Civil War soldiers in our holdings. So far, Jesse has only encountered two pensions, and historians know of only about 250 Muslim Civil War soldiers in all. This record, therefore, sheds light on a unique perspective that is often overlooked. As a Muslim immigrant serving in a white unit, Kahn…

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