Filmmaker Gurinder Chadha’s movie is filming her movie, Viceroy’s House, which chronicles the last days of Lord Mountbatten before he handed over the charge to an independent India, in Jodhpur’s resplendent Umaid Bhavan Palace. Rajasthan Post finds out why
What is movie Viceroy House’s connection with Rajasthan’s blue city-Jodhpur? Jodhpur’s majestic Umaid Bhavan Palace is witnessing a history in the making- that of India’s independence saga, albeit on celluloid.
The British Raj was synonymous with the imperial Viceroy’s House, from where the Viceroys
and later Governor General ran the country with an ironfist. The striking Umaid Bhavan Palace now finds itself in the midst of India’s realisation of independence between 1947 and 1948.
Popular British filmmaker of Indian origin Gurinder Chadha, has now chosen the majestic Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur to film her ‘Viceroy’s House, which reportedly chronicles the last months of Lord Mountbatten and his wife Edwina’s stay in India before British rule ended.
The impressive real Viceroy House is the present Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi. Its architect Edwin Landseer Lutyens (1869-1944) began designing it in 1912 and the Viceroy and Lady Irwin moved in on 23 December 1929 to become its first residents.
This Viceroy’s House in many ways marked the high point of Lutyens’ brilliant career as an architect, and the fulfillment of the long quest for a synthesis of Western and Eastern architectural styles, both of which had developed during the Victorian period.
This Viceroy House is also the grandest of all the residences that the British built in India, a fitting successor to the original grand colonial palace of the Raj, Charles Wyatt’s Raj Bhawan in Kolkata.
Described as “the largest of all modern palaces, 600 feet long from end to end, 180 feet to the top of its central dome, Lutyens’ new headquarters for a brand new capital had 340 rooms, covered four and a half acres and included twelve separate internal courtyards, making it probably the last of the great royal palaces of history.
Rising above the executive and legislative offices of the state and overlooking the city itself, it made a clear statement of British imperial intentions.
Lutyens’ colleague Herbert Baker said the site was chosen after considerable deliberation, in fact taking into account the “road system based on two great roads.” However, to others, the location is “an act of imperial cartography”, Raisina Hill looked down from a height and stood separated from the shambolic mass of the inhabitants of the older city.
The magnificent edifice is one of the largest buildings of its kind in the world. This structure of red and cream sandstone took eight years – 1921-1929 to build at a cost of about 14 million rupees.
The stately columns after the Roman and Greek Style, the Dome adopted from Buddhist stupas, the symmetry typical of Mughal architecture and the broad courts characteristic of English houses, have all been fused to create a new style of architecture, simple and yet imposing.
The facade of Rashtrapati Bhavan with a massive colonnade at the top of a flight of long and broad alabaster stairs, overlooking the forecourt, where parades are drawn up on important occasions, makes an impressive sight.
The building contains 11/2 miles of corridors, 340 rooms of which 63 are living rooms, 227 columns, 35 loggias and 37 fountains including the roof fountains.
There are three main entrances to the Forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan, which is flanked by the President’s and Cabinet Secretariats.
The third side opens into a huge square earlier called the Viceroy’s court where the Jaipur Column stands.
On top of the thirty-one broad steps, which lead to the Portico, is a great piece of sculpture – the Bull Capital of an Ashoka Pillar.
In the middle of the foreground, facing the forecourt steps of Rashtrapati Bhavan, stands the Jaipur Column at a height of 146 feet. Placed on top of the column is the Star of India. This column was presented by Major-General His Highness Sir Sawai Madho Singh Maharaj of Jaipur to commemorate the creation of the new Capital of Delhi.
In March 1947, Mountbatten became the Viceroy of India with a mandate to oversee the British withdrawal from India. He was the last British resident of this Viceroy’s House.
He established good relations with leading politicians, particularly with Jawaharlal Nehru, but was unable to persuade the Muslim leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah to think of a united, independent India.
Mountbatten soon gave up hope of a united country and on 14-15 August 1947, British India was partitioned into the new states of India and Pakistan.
This resulted in widespread inter-communal violence, particularly in the Punjab, which now sat in East India, and West Pakistan. There were huge population movements as 3.5 million Hindus and Sikhs fled from the areas that had become Pakistan and around five million Muslims migrated to Pakistan.
Mountbatten remained as interim governor-general of India until June 1948. For his services during the war and in India, he was created viscount in 1946 and Earl Mountbatten of Burma the following year.
Filmmaker Chadha zeroed in on Umaid Bhavan Palace for her shoot as this majestic palace comes closest to Rashtrapati Bhavan in terms of its appearance.
Jodhpur’s Umaid Bhawan Palace, one of India’s last great palaces, was constructed between 1929 and 1944. The Palace was originally envisaged as a drought relief measure and the aim was to provide employment to over 3000 people afflicted by consecutive years of drought.
Its central dome soars 110 feet overhead and provides spectacular centerpiece – a focal point for all the visitors to the property. The view from the pillars, especially at sunset, are spectacular.
Landscaped gardens, just like Rashtrapati Bhavan, adorn the exteriors of the building and the spacious lawns at the rear of the palace create an ambience which is serene, restful and yet spectacularly royal.
Sources say that the movie would be shot inside the palace as the inside shots can be made to resemble the interiors of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, taking the grandeur of the palace into account. The outside mugshots would be of the actual Viceroy’s House that is now the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The film has gone on the floors for eight weeks in Jodhpur, starting in the first week of September.
The project marks the first time collaboration of Indian media conglomerate Reliance Entertainment with Britain’s Pathé.
Chadha of ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ fame, along with Berges and Moira Buffini, has penned the screenplay of the film, whose principal shooting began on August 30.
Chadha directs from a script written in collaboration with Paul Mayeda Berges and Moira Buffini.
Produced by Deepak Nayar, Chadha and her husband Paul Mayeda Berges, the film stars Hugh Bonneville as Lord Mountbatten, Gillian Anderson as Lady Mountbatten, Tanveer Ghaani as Jawaharlal Nehru, Neeraj Kabi as Mahatma Gandhi and Denzil Smith as Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Manish Dayal leads the Indian and Pakistani cast, which also includes Huma Qureshi, Tanveer Ghani, Denzil Smith, Neeraj Kabi and Om Puri.
The cast also includes Lily Travers, Michael Gambon and Simon Callow.
The film casts Huma Qureshi with Manish Dayal in a romantic track. Dayal won accolades of critics last year for essaying the role of an Indian chef in Lasse Hallstrom’s acclaimed film, The 100 Foot Journey. Actor Om Puri would be working with Chadha for the first time.
In a statement, the brief of the film reads: “For six months in 1947, Lord Mountbatten assumed the post of the last Viceroy, charged with handing India back to its people. Mountbatten lived upstairs together with his wife and daughter. Downstairs lived their 500 Hindu, Muslim and Sikh servants. Against this turbulent backdrop, the personal and the political became deeply entwined and a decision was made that reverberates to this day.”
‘Viceroy’s House’ is a Pathé, Reliance Entertainment, BBC Films, Ingenious and BFI presentation of a Bend It Films/Deepak Nayar Production in association with FilmVast and Filmgate Films.
It is executive produced by Pathé’s Cameron McCracken, BBC Films’ Christine Langan , Reliance Entertainment’s Shibasish Sarkar and Ingenious Media’s Tim O’Shea, while Natascha Wharton will oversee the project for the BFI.
Pathé will distribute the film in Britain and in France and will handle sales throughout the rest of the world, while Reliance Entertainment will distribute the film in India.
Incidentally, Pamela Mountbatten, daughter of Lord Mountbatten, had written a book India Remembered, an inside account of the events leading up to Indian Independence, which was released on India’s 60th anniversary in 2007. This book has been taken out from the diaries Pamela kept as well as those of her parents.
Pamela was 17 when she came to India in 1947 with her parents, who immediately plunged into hectic negotiations with Indian leaders in the desperate race to meet the deadline of August 15.
She spent 15 months in what is now Rashtrapati Bhawan with a front row seat to history-in-the making.