Bold indeed. Full marks both for inventing the space and holding a great artistic balance in telling the story to Raj Kumar Santhoshi.
At a time when the freedom of expression and truth are systemic victims it takes courage, leave alone talent, to take on the Gandhi-Godse debate.
What, however, is disturbing and worrisome is not the engaging debate between the two ideological extremes of the pendulum but the reaction from the uninformed or the “modern know-all historians”.
It is demeaning that the literate arrogate to themselves the luxurious vertical of judging the Mahatma not just for his actions but even as a patriot. It is not that the path followed by the Mahatma or his school of thinking is beyond discussion and debate. The line dividing debate from disrespect is fast disappearing. The intolerance to a viewpoint and any criticism of the present regime, even viewed from a historical prism is construed as anti-national.
This film is a genuine attempt to return to healthier environs. Not surprisingly the entire nation of filmgoers including the “boycott brigade” is swept away by ‘Pathaan’ and the noise that it is creating at the Box Office gives the Santhoshi film the royal ignore.
Worse still is that section of the viewers who run amuck with their whistles of approval on the rabid views of divisibility or chest beating and communal hate spew as part of the “balanced view”.
It is but befitting that the Indian polity not only celebrates the Republic but is also willing to discuss with candour the Mahatma. Let me come up with my caveat - I am sold to Gandhi. My respect for the Mahatma is confessedly exaggerated. Debate yes, hate no.
The film starts off with an impact-leaving scene when the camera catches a wailing child abandoned in the midst of the Partition carnage.
Santhoshi takes a stated liberty with history when the Mahatma survives the assassination attempt on him on Jan.30, 1948. He then goes under the scissor and insists on a dialogue with the assassin. The entire story cannot be but a dialogue between Nathuram and the Mahatma.
To give it a context Santhoshi moves on to the Gandhian call to abandon the Congress. His call to dissolve the Congress is ignored by the likes of Nehru, Patel (note not just the former but also the latter) Acharya Kriplani, Azaad, and Ambedkar who proceed to function under the Congress banner.
Gandhi moves to Bihar to start his post-Independence movement of the village as a socio-economic unit (to the uninitiated the Mahatma had started his freedom struggle in India with the indigo workers of Bihar).
The government is forced to charge him with criminal conspiracy and sedition. Arrested he again insists on being in the same cell as Nathuram where the larger ideological debate between the Nathuram brand of patriotism and the Gandhian module is escalated.
How Gandhi laments the refusal by the Congress big-wig to seek advice from him; his diagnosis of the differences between Patel and Nehru; the declaration that government rule doesn’t serve that the two have a commonality in the Bhagavad Gita; that since viewpoints and beliefs are not permanent killings cannot be accepted; his response to appeasing the minority with instances that were not religion based highlight the Mahatma space. Even here Santoshi gives the Nathuram side its space. This indeed is the highlight of the film.
Pavan Chopra as Nehru, Ghanshyam as Patel, Arif Zakaria as Acharya Kriplani, Mukund Pathak as Bhimrao Ambedkar and the young couple Anuj Saini and Tanisha Santoshi all give their respective roles credibility. Chinmay Mandlekar as Nathuram Godse is studied and theatric - more in keeping with the character than as an artistic failure. He delivers obviously what Santoshi wanted of him. Deepak Antani as Gandhi is perfect. The mannerisms, body language, and tone are all reminiscent of the man who this nation will remember albeit formally tomorrow.
This is the kind of cinema that we must encourage and market. The ‘Damini’, ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ man in his comeback vehicle has packed more than a punch. A Gandhian punch. Is Yudh a misnomer qua Gandhi? Not if war is devoid of violence. The film mirrors importantly the tragedy that Gandhi is betrayed not only by his detractors but tragically by his followers. That is the looming tragedy as large as the hate narrative being edged around the merchant of love and peace....