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Did choosing patriotism over humanity made Radcliffe a demon?: Review of This Bloody Line

by Harleen Kaur (India)

This Bloody Line (2017)

Director: Ram Madhvani

Cast: Martin Bishop, Lena Hodgson

Being a third generation refugee, I’ve always been haunted by the idea of how facing partition must have been for my grandfather who was uprooted at a tender age of eight. During my growing years he used to narrate me stories of partition and one person whom he would even curse today, the name was Radcliffe, whose one stroke on the map destroyed more than million lives.  As Manto puts it, the fight (brawl for ruling India) of madmen was solved by  giving them their own madhouses. This role of allotting madhouses was done by Sir Cyril Radcliffe. The nations were built and borders were drawn with blood and madness was put to an end.

 ‘This Bloody Line’ explores the final years of life of Sir Cyril Radcliffe who partitioned India and presents psychic turmoil of the man who preferred patriotism over humanity. It is believed that parting the land had put Radcliffe into struggle of conscience. In words of British playwright Howard Breton, “There were clues that Radcliffe had a dark night of the soul in the bungalow: he refused to accept his fee, he did collect all the papers and draft maps, took them home to England and burnt them.And he refused to say a word even to his family, about what happened.” Madhvani fictionalizes this aspect of reality of Radcliffe’s dimming years and beautifully presents it in this short movie of nine minutes and forty two seconds.

Set up in a typical English sitting area, This Bloody Line begins with Nehru’s voice delivering the famous speech Tryst with Destiny. Accompanied with Nehru’s voice Madhvani puts in graphics which portray various ‘players of the game’ (politicians, of course)  and a prospective utopian picture where India was supposed to “awake to life and freedom”. The scene then gradually shifts to the sitting area in 1966 England, where Radcliffe is accompanied by his wife Antonia Roby. The sixty seven years old Radcliffe receives a telephone call which informs him about poem W.H Auden had written about him. The decaying Radcliffe is overwhelmed by this and to which Antonia responds that the poem is not “kind one”. Antonia becomes eyes for Radcliffe and recites the poem by Auden which severely criticises Radcliffe for the partition which was done for better or worse, nobody knew.

The poem acts as a catalyst to the plot and Radcliffe brims with “denial, anger, sadness and consequently acceptance.  These transitions are evident through three phases in the second half of the movie. Radcliffe begins to defend himself by explaining how he was merely a pawn in hands of “madmen”. Antonia out rightly criticises Lord Mountbatten and his major role in initiating partition of India. While Radcliffe makes it clear that each of “madmen” wanted partition by 15th of August. He says. “Nehru, Jinnah, Patel…Well they all told me they wanted partition by 15th August. So I drew them a line” The emphatic dialogues highlight the arbitrariness of the ideas behind partition. Radcliffe who was a lawyer and had never been to India was delegated to divide it (as Auden puts)” with inaccurate data”. Radcliffe was torn between patriotism and humanity. He became a part of the “ridiculous idea” and divided the land “in the service” of his country. The anger gradually transforms to sadness and Radcliffe points out his moral blindness which made him do something which caused mass destruction even after being warned by Gandhi. The irreversible partition “between two peoples fanatically odds” had not been an easy walk. While Madhvani in a very balanced manner explores the construction of two nations at the same time he tries to find a solution to the Radcliffe Line. 

Radcliffe: Imagine… someone drawing a line down in the middle of this home… this living room. You’re sitting over there. I’m sitting over here. And someone draws a line right down here in the middle. The line divides us.

Antonia: In that case darling, I should come to your side, shouldn’t I ?

The emphatic reply of Antonia to almost tearful Radcliffe seems to compel viewers to initiate a talk between  a divided heart. The movie ends with various clips of millions of people who were uprooted and the old Radcliffe accompanied by his wife going to church perhaps for redeeming himself from lifelong regret.

The Bloody Line premiered at India Today #Conclave17 was received with massive applause. Madhvani’s attempt towards presenting the other side of the coin of gaining independence should be appreciated. The movie seems to highlight the arbitrariness of  ‘the  need’ of separating and inculcates a spirit to reunite to our beloveds across the borders. In contemporary world various attempts are being made to end conflicts through medium of arts and aesthetics. It is tendency of human brain to believe what it sees. Therefore, the role of visual arts is incredible in itself. The binding of narratives of different eras and their contemporary application puts this exquisite work of Madhvani class apart. Art can be used either as a way of  widening or diminishing the chasm, Madhvani’s positive and simplistic approach to the subject of the Radcliffe line definitely provides a hope to general public. It is of no doubt that such art based approaches are lately gaining attention and gradually becoming tool of changing ideas. As of about Sir Cyril Radcliffe, Madhvani leaves it upon the viewers to judge him but definitely provides a new perspective to life of a man who had always been demonized via this retrospective analysis.

Harleen KaurHarleen Kaur has pursued English literature from University of Delhi. She curates time in pictures and prose. 
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