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‘Viceroy’s House’ misterepresented as anti-Muslim

The director argues that her film about India’s partition of 1947, far from ignoring the freedom struggle, celebrates it

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Fatima Bhutto, in reviewing my film Viceroy’s House, has every right to express her opinion about it. Everyone sees history through their own lens; some only see what they want to see. My film is my vision of the events leading up to India’s partition.

It is not the first and it will not be the last interpretation, and I am delighted that it is provoking such heated public debate.

What saddens me is that a film about reconciliation should be so wilfully misrepresented as anti-Muslim or anti-Pakistan.

In reviewing my film, Bhutto makes a series of statements that are wildly inaccurate. I would normally let this pass — the audience will see from the very first scene that her description of my film is false. However, Bhutto seems intent on inflaming the racial and religious divisions that my film is intended to challenge, and it feels irresponsible to let that pass.

My film does not ignore the freedom struggle — it celebrates that struggle. (“The British Empire brought to its knees by a man in a loincloth,” as Lady Mountbatten comments.)

It does not ignore the colonial policy of divide and rule, but challenges it. (As Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru comments to Lord Mountbatten: “You have divided us and now you ask us for a solution.”)

Above all, it does not show the Muslim community as sole perpetrators of violence.

In her most inflammatory allegation, Bhutto writes that the film depicts a Muslim father throwing his daughter from a train, only for her to be saved by a Hindu woman. She asserts that I do this to show that “a [pointedly non-Muslim] stranger is more nurturing than a Muslim parent”.

In fact, what the film depicts is a Hindu mob attacking a train of Muslim families — the father pushes his daughter from the train to save her, not to kill her.

In making the film, I took infinite care to show that responsibility for the violence lay on all sides, and all communities were victims of the violence, irrespective of race or religion. Part of that process was to share the script and the film with many Muslim, Hindu and Sikh academics and historians to ensure that the scenes I depicted were a fair and reasonable representation of events.

I made Viceroy’s House so that this key moment in our shared British-Asian history — the 70th anniversary of the independence of India and the birth of Pakistan — would not be lost. The events of 1947 are largely forgotten in the UK, and they were and continue to be of huge importance. I do not for one minute expect every person watching the film to agree with my take on history. However, what alarms me most about Bhutto’s piece is that it plays straight into the hands of those who promote communal division — something that plagues India and Pakistan to this day.

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