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Indian Summer

, Film about Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten

 
 
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> Indian Summer, Film about Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten
Sharmila-Sweet
post Oct 8 2009, 10:42 AM
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Author Alex Von Tunzelmann, whose Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire is being adapted for screen, talks to TOI about the Alex Von Tunzelmann
ethical dilemma of prying into the private lives of icons....

How many times have you visited India to research for your book? I have lost count of that. I’ve been to Delhi, Shimla and even Kashmir. My visits have been mostly restricted to the North though I have also been to Bangalore and Mysore.

While doing research for your book, was there any record about Edwina and Nehru that made you exclaim: ‘Wow! how is it that the world never knew this?
There were so many such moments. The press allowed them to be discreet about their relationship. I remember seeing a 1948 photograph of them holding hands during one of their visits to a refugee camp. There was so much solidarity in their friendship.

It’s often said that while Lord Mountbatten appeared to be very loyal, Edwina wasn’t. How do you think he graciously accepted and even empathized with Edwina when she went through her break-ups?
Lord Mountbatten was a generous husband. Though the marriage clearly didn’t work, Edwina couldn’t move out. Lord Mountbatten was genuinely happy with the friendships Edwina had outside marriage. He was too decent and dignified to even ask her whether there was more to the friendships. For him, it could have been a case of accepting that it was none of his business to ask further.

In a marital relationship, isn’t such detachment with the knowledge that something could be brewing very unusual?
A lot of us might not be able to manage that. Sure, it is very unusual. But I think their love for each other grew after they left India.

During the course of your research, did you ever consider speaking to any of Nehru’s descendants?
I had met Nehru’s niece, Nayantara Sahgal, in Mussoorie. An intelligent lady, she was open to my idea of documenting the history of those crucial years. She knew Gandhi well and was very helpful. Sonia Gandhi too had written a letter back to me when I had expressed my desire to meet her. Unfortunately, the meeting never happened.

By allowing William Nicholson to write the screenplay for Indian Summer, did you feel like a mother who has given her child up for adoption?
I feel very powerful about the book. But, I don’t really own the events. The events belong to billions of people. I haven’t seen the screenplay yet. I am a historian and my role in the film is that of a historical consultant. Film writing is very different from historical documentation. I trust William’s talent and judgement.

Writing an adaptation involves a lot about choices of leaving out certain details. What’s the most crucial part of adapting your novel?
It’s important to get the characters right. After all, these people are not that far away in history. From the feedback that I’ve got for my book, I think I have got things right.

There have been media reports of the Indian government wanting four scenes (one of a kiss, one where they dance, one where they lie in bed and one where Nehru says ‘I love you’) deleted. Do you appreciate such a directive?
I’m not even sure whether such things were there in the script. I read online reports about the movie, a lot of which seem exaggerated. My book doesn’t have any such moments of the Nehru-Edwina kissing, dancing or lying in bed.

Since neither Nehru nor Edwina had mentioned whether their relationship was platonic or otherwise, do you think a film-maker has the liberty to imagine the truth however respectful that is?
That’s a very difficult question. It happens time and again when films are made about historical characters. Take for instance, Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. We allow more liberty when the characters belong to the distant past. But who decides how much time is enough time? Being a historian is very different from being a director. Film-making is a lot about imagination.

Do you like watching such imaginative explorations of any icon’s private life?
I would find it interesting if it’s done well and not just to create a scandal. There must be a profound impact in that.

Do you think the Indian viewer is mature enough to watch a film unravel the relationship between Edwina and Nehru while it has always been kept so hush-hush?
I expect that depends on the Indian viewer in question! I am sure Indians will have many different opinions on the subject. Of course, it is impossible to please everyone. But it is possible to explore a subject like this with sensitivity. Indian audience is just as capable as anyone else in the world of taking a mature view, and of understanding that there is a difference between a profound love story and a cheap scandal. If this story had been leaked to the press in 1947-’48, of course, it would have been a scandal. But now, with some distance and sensitivity, the story can be told in a way that is very moving. At least, that is what I have tried to achieve, and the readers of my book may say whether I have done so or not. Stories of love of all kinds have always been central to Indian culture, and in my experience most modern Indians are not prudish or hypocritical about that. I don’t believe that the relationship between Edwina and Nehru was a shameful relationship.

What’s your understanding of him?
The best way to understand Gandhi was to look at him through Nehru’s writings. There is no question Nehru loved and respected Gandhi, but at the same time he often disagreed with him very sharply. My own views are very often the same as Nehru’s. It is possible to
disagree with the Mahatma on political points while still believing that he was —- and is —- an enormous and powerful spiritual influence on the whole world. He was a fascinating and complex man, and I do not think it is possible or desirable to have a simple response to him.

Do you think Cate Blanchett is best suited to play Edwina?
n She is a wonderful actor, has won dozens of awards and has played historical roles too. I would be delighted to have her play Edwina.

What about the choice of Hugh Grant to play Lord Mountbatten?
I am a fan of his but have not heard any definite word from him.

Finding the actor to play Nehru would be challenging. Do you prefer someone who physically resembles him?
Some extent of physical resemblance helps to make a character believable. But what’s more important is to have an actor who has the dignity and gravitas to carry off his spirit. I read a report stating that Irrfan would be playing Nehru in the film. Though I don’t know whether this is true or not, I think he is a brilliant actor. I’m a huge fan of his.

Do you watch Bollywood movies?
Oh! Yes. I’ve just watched Dil Bole Hadippa! I love Shahid Kapoor and Imran Khan. I also like Rani Mukerji, Preity Zinta and Konkona Sen Sharma. I’d like to catch Wake Up Sid in London next week.

Any plans of writing the Bollywood history?
I’d love to do that. There is a similarity between Bollywood and Indian politics. Both give a lot of emphasis to dynasty. Writing on Shah Rukh, who is so big now without having come from a filmi background, would be interesting.

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Sharmila-Sweet
post Oct 12 2009, 09:19 AM
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Why do we want our leaders to be so boring?
Pritish Nandy Monday October 05, 2009

The makers of Indian Summer, the film on Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten, starring Cate Blanchett, have finally got their shooting script cleared by the I&B Ministry with some of the best and most intimate scenes in the film knocked out. They have also been told that a Ministry official will accompany them throughout their India shoot to ensure there are no digressions from the approved script and that, once the filming is over, the final edit must be cleared with the Ministry before the film can be released anywhere. Phew! That sounds like Communist China clearing a movie on Comrade Mao's four wives and many clandestine affairs.

I don't blame Ambika Soni. She's not a control freak. I know exactly what will happen if the film even slightly deviates from the politically correct and Congress party approved point of view. So what will you get eventually? An unbearably boring and totally sanitised version of what is possibly one of the most exciting and torrid romances that took place in our usually dull, dreary political scene. What the Ministry will clear, with the first family's approval, is a whitewashed version of the scorching affair that took place right in the thick of Partition politics as the British Raj was packing up to go. That the two people having this hot, sweaty affair under the sultry Indian sun were both pretending to be happily married makes the story doubly exciting. One of them went on to become Independent India's first Prime Minister and the other went back to England as the wife of the Empire's last Viceroy, rich with memories of the most colourful colony the British had ever ruled.

It's a rich, vivid story, even more spectacular in scale and scope than Gone with the Wind. Set against the tragic backdrop of a nation breaking up as its obstreperous leaders fought for power and the Mahatma, who had struggled long and hard for Independence, helplessly watched the ****** massacres taking place and his dream of one India dying. Yet it was one of the greatest love stories of our time which ended in separation and heartbreak as both lovers went back to their partners and countries, thousands of miles apart, with nothing but memories of a romance that stood no chance in the charged atmosphere of that time. But will the movie be allowed to capture the magnificence of the drama, the charged sexuality, the thrill and the poignancy of the loved that failed? I doubt it.

We want our political heroes to be dull, dreary, respectable people, and even when they are not, we want to airbrush their lives so that they appear to be so. Nehru's personal tragedy, caught between an ailing wife in what appears to be a loveless marriage and a hot, sweltering, illicit relationship pretty much doomed to begin with, will be swiftly glossed over because we believe our leaders must be chaste and correct, even if that makes them crushing bores. It would be fun to see how the film maker gets past that since Nehru was such an irresistible charmer and made no secret of his feelings for the Viceroy's wife. His wife knew about it. So did Lord Mountbatten. What they thought of it we shall never know since the film's been censored even before shooting.

At the heart of this obsessive censoring is a typical Indian problem. We refuse to accept the fact that our heroes, like us, have frailties and failures. Our epics tell us that our heroes are heroes because they are flawed. But we have become so used to hagiographers and court historians that we can't accept this. We want them botoxed and airbrushed, chaste and pure. One wrong word about them and their self-declared admirers rush onto the streets, burning buses and trains, setting movie theatres on fire, vandalising libraries, creating mayhem. As a result, everyone plays safe and young Indians wonder why we have no real, flesh and blood leaders they can admire.

It's not just Nehru. Think of Gandhi and his experiments with truth. Think of how he treated his wife Kasturba, his son Harilal, who sank into alcoholism, how he slept naked at night with young women on either side of him to practice what he described as brahmacharya. In today's times, we would have packed him off to jail, not hailed him for his claims to celibacy. Think of Jinnah, his hedonistic lifestyle. Think of the Emergency that made us so angry we not only threw out the Congress but ensured Indira Gandhi lost her seat to a crackpot like Raj Narain. The hero of the Bangladesh War was even jailed. Did that make her any less a leader? A film on Indira Gandhi's life, showing every fault line, from Dhirendra Brahmachari to the Emergency to Operation Bluestar, would make her look far more real, far more interesting than official documentaries that put insomniacs to sleep.



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