Ultratravel - The Lasting Embrace
Spring 2017

Gurinder Chadha, director of Viceroy’s House, on her life-long relationship with India.

Perhaps the most moving moment in Gurinder Chadha’s latest film is after it ends. Just before the credits begin to roll, a black-and-white photograph comes up on screen. It’s a picture of Chadha’s grandmother with her children – and the caption explains how she survived the Partition of India in 1947.

Viceroy’s House – which stars Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson as Lord and Lady Mountbatten – details the run-up to Partition, and this year is the 70th anniversary of that historic event. But the film is not only about the politics, but also life in the servants’ quarters. “I’m trying to show you India from that perspective, too,” Chadha tells me. “So while I focus on the Mountbattens and the work of the British, my heart is also downstairs with the people dealing with the decisions made upstairs. That shows my plurality, my duality, my relationship with India.”

Chadha’s travels in India

“I was born in Nairobi and grew up in London, but my ancestral heritage is from India – and it’s a magical country for me. I have made several films here, and it’s the most enchanting place to work: everywhere you point a camera, life is teeming. There’s so much antiquity and so much beauty. Also, if you go there as a tourist, every single sense is attacked and you can’t keep up.

My favourite place in the country is the Golden Temple in Amritsar. It’s a place I’m drawn to over and over again, and I can sit there for hours and people-watch – either with the bright sun glinting off the gold or after dark when it’s bathed in moonlight. There’s something about the sanctuary of the place that makes me forget about everything else. Whenever I’m in India I have to go there. There are amazing shops and places to eat and a new Partition Museum opened this year, which I’ve yet to visit. Plus, just up the road is the Wagah border with Pakistan which is interesting and painful and amazing all at the same time.

Until Viceroy’s House, I’d never been to Jodhpur and I love this city. When I went into town, it was like I had to wear sunglasses with all those lime greens, bright pinks and blues. We shot most of the film at Umaid Bhawan, the maharaja’s palace, which is also a Taj hotel and we worked around the guests. Every afternoon I had delivered to the set these long skinny chillis – for which the city is famous. They stuff them with spicy potatoes, dip them in chickpea batter and fry them. I’d have them every day for tea.

Another must-go place for me is Kerala – with its coastline and beautiful canals and ancient culture. It’s wonderful because it’s a totally different place to the rest of India: socialist, without any beggars, with a high literacy rate where women read – and work – as much as the men. Until recently, I’d also never been to Kolkata – and I love the way they’ve preserved the British Raj there in the city’s monuments and buildings, as well as looking after a lot of traditional Indian architecture and original wooden buildings.

Some people might want to avoid Mumbai but it’s important to come here. When I was at university we used to say India was part of the Third World, but now it’s all about money, business, strength and opportunity. You can see that even in the city’s billboards. Delhi, too. After having grown up with the poverty of India constantly shoved at me, here is this massive conurbation with its cyber city and tech industry. I thrive on seeing the success stories of India. I can see before my very eyes the growth of this economic superpower and its role as a world leader.”