The actress stars as Lady Mountbatten in Viceroy’s House, a sumptuous period drama set during the last days of the Raj and directed by Gurinder Chadha.
Critics have noted that the film omits mention of the relationship between the Vicereine and India’s first Prime Minister, although exchanged glances hint at an attachment.
Appearing on BBC Radio 5 Live’s film review programme, Anderson was asked if the storyline was left out for reasons of space. She replied: “I’m not sure if we would have been allowed to film in India if we told that story.”
Pushed on whether she had wanted to tell the story, Anderson said: “That’s a question for Gurinder.”
More than 50 years after his death, Nehru’s private life remains a subject of great sensitivity to the authorities in India. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has dominated Indian politics since Partition.
A planned film about his relationship with Lady Mountbatten, Indian Summer, was shelved in 2009 when the government said it could be filmed in India only if scenes showing the couple kissing, dancing and sharing a bed be deleted. The film was due to star Cate Blanchett.
Correspondence between Nehru and Lady Mountbatten reveals the depth of their feelings, with Nehru writing of the “uncontrollable force [that] drew us to one another”.
However, the Mountbattens’ daughter, Lady Pamela Hicks, believes that the friendship was not consummated, although she concedes that her mother had a colourful private life.
“Jawaharlal and my mother undoubtedly loved one another. They were soul mates,” she told the Telegraph. But “there was no way they could have had a sexual thing at the time because they were never alone. They were permanently surrounded by police and ADCs.
“Besides, Jawaharlal was a very honourable man. The idea of betraying my father, who was a friend, by sleeping with his wife in his own house? No. It would have made it sordid.”
Chadha has described her film as “an Upstairs, Downstairs vision of Partition”, focusing both on the political negotiations and a fictional love story between a Hindu valet and a Muslim valet in the Mountbatten household.
Responding to Anderson's comments, the director said: “In the film there are a couple of subtle references to their rumoured affair. However I didn’t focus on it because it’s not what my film is about. I didn’t want it to distract from the real story of the people of India. That heart-breaking, but hopeful human story is far more important.“