Ram Madhvani reimagines Cyril Radcliffe, the man who partitioned India
‘This Bloody Line’ is a poignant and humanising take on the much reviled British bureaucrat charged with the most odious task of 20th century South Asian history.
It’s a riddle really, Partition. India was halved as if a great meat cleaver was struck at its heart, cutting it into two unequal, warring and unrequited parts. As the calls for Partition became louder from the very leaders of the country – Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Sardar Patel – Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India, invited Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a British bureaucrat and a lawyer, to draw the proverbial line.
That line – This Bloody Line – was the Radcliffe Line, which divided two lands which were actually one, tied in blood and bone. But was Radcliffe really the villain he has been made out to be? Did he have any ulterior motive and wanted to drive the last nail into the coffin of a stillborn double nation, or was he just a bureaucrat doing the job that nobody else would dare take up?
Ram Madhvani (of Neerja fame) imagines Sir Radcliffe as a gentle man of books and maps, who drew the line with red ink that drew blood from millions of Partition-ravaged Indians and Pakistanis. It wasn’t something Radcliffe intended. But the accident of a crumbling empire tied its fate too densely with that of Radcliffe’s.
At 9:42 minutes, This Bloody Line premiered at India Today #Conclave17 and received massive applause. Madhvani’s poignant and humanising take on the much reviled British bureaucrat charged with the most odious task of 20th century South Asian history is refreshing, without being forgiving of the colonial plunder.
The short film begins with Cyril Radcliffe, the then inaugural chancellor of the University of Warwick, excited at being the subject of a poem written by WH Auden. But to his utter disappointment, his wife soon intimates him that the poem isn’t a “nice” one, but something that’s unsparing in its accusation. Auden, then England’s poet laureate, wrote that Radcliffe drew the line in haste and without much of a thought, as he was too eager to return to England and cure his dysentery.
There’s sadness and disenchantment that’s both deeply personal and throbbing with a sense of political helplessness. Was Radcliffe judged too harshly for the mistakes committed by his peers in the government? Were the Indian stalwarts of freedom struggle blinded by their mania to win the race to first prime ministership of the newly independent India and Pakistan?
Was it just a “bloody line”, or was it something that was destined to come in between, a partition of minds as much as that of a once shared land?