Synopsis – A fictional world where Mahatma Gandhi survives the attack on him and later meets Nathuram Godse in prison. Their conversation leads to a fiery debate between them.
My Take – Looking at the current state of affairs in modern day India, it is a popular belief that we need Mahatma Gandhi‘s morals and vision now more than ever. While none of us know what the future holds for the supposed largest democracy in the world, writer-director Rajkumar Santoshi‘s first venture in a decade poses an interesting alternate view.
A what if scenario that poses questions like what would have happened if Mahatma Gandhi had survived the assassination attempt by Nathuram Vinayak Godse and others on January 30, 1948? Would we have seen a parallel government? What if the two were given untrammeled time to converse with each other? Would there have been a dilution of ideology, or change of heart on the part of Godse, one of the most reviled names in modern history?
At first glance, the film, based on playwright Asghar Wajahat‘s play Godse@Gandhi.com, seems like a brave and honest attempt to clear the air on such scenarios by allowing the two to discuss their ideologies. However, despite being backed by excellent performances and a superb visual style, director Santoshi‘s attempt at revisionism is marred by a weak screenplay that tries to play it both ways, and ending up being a confused product.
The concept is without a doubt filled with high potential, especially, a chance to challenge some views of Gandhiji and really debate and thrash them out. But despite being a film about the struggle of ideas, it arrives at its central conflict too late.
The screenplay ends up spending too much time on how the society was continuously shifting in its bias in favor of and against Gandhi, and when it does decides to have the real conversation it had promised, it breaks it up into episodes where the issue is brought up and dealt with too quickly. A lot more could have been done. In my opinion, the film should have instead been a stronger take down of the false anti-Gandhi narrative that enjoys currency in certain quarters.
Set in a parallel timeline, the story begins with Nathuram Vinayak Godse (Chinmay Mandlekar), a Hindu nationalist, who looking at the atrocities occurring around him, blames Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi aka Mahatma Gandhi (Deepak Antani) as the one who intended the partition of India following its independence. With a drive to preserve his Hindutva and to avenge the misery of Hindus, Godse ends up shooting Gandhi on 30 January 1948.
However, Gandhi miraculously survives, pardons Godse and continues his efforts to create the nation of his dream. That ranges from experimenting with village-level self-rule, farmers’ rights, the protection of forest dwellers and their land, to the eradication of caste oppression. But when the two find themselves confined together in the same cell, they engage in a number of discussions and exchanges of ideas in an effort to comprehend each other’s perspectives.
Considering its concept, writer-director Rajkumar Santoshi obviously means well, as he employs Mahatma Gandhi himself to dispel rumors that one routinely comes across, yet he does not fare particularly well in the execution of this re-imagining. Though the first half of the film moves like a breeze, it is however in the second half where the film falters, as director Santoshi isn’t always sure what he wants the film to convey. Although it is generally clear which side he is on.
For a film that is about the battle between the ideologies comes to its main conflict too late. While we are told how the environment was constantly fluctuating its inclination towards and against Gandhi, the screenplay ends up investing too much time in the same.
Even as the film stresses the political stances of the founding fathers of the nation, it humanizes both Gandhi and Godse but with obviously divergent outcomes. Sparks fly when the two men confront each other. Godse is all rage and unyielding while Gandhi is an epitome of benign composure. One raves and rants, the other embraces equanimity as he counters the allegations hurled at him.
The film examines Gandhi’s celibacy and exposes Godse’s blind love for a specific community, but it also diminishes their divergent political views to a simple behavioral conflict that could be remedied via conversation. Gandhi’s human failings are brought to the fore in one scene where his deceased wife appears in a vision and accuses him of being fearful of those who disagree with him and of being insensitive to those who worship the ground he walks on.
On the other hand, Godse, despite the vitriol he spews against a community and his threats of violence, is eventually made to look like a just another man on a mission that he believes is necessary for the nation and its majority community. It isn’t exactly glorification, but it does sound like a justification of his narrow thinking. Even in a fictional tale, making matters worse is the climax which sees Godse saving Mahatma, a completely preposterous scenario.
Nevertheless, what works here is the visual presentation of the film. Production designer Dhananjay Mondal, cinematographer Rishi Punjabi, and director Rajkumar Santoshi deserve all the credit for it. Even A. R. Rahman‘s music serves the film well.
Performance wise, Deepak Antani, who has played Gandhi in over 100 plays, looks completely at ease at how he treats the on-screen replication of the nation’s most revered figure. Chinmay Mandlekar is also equally impressive and delivers a very controlled performance. The film also benefits from the presence of Pawan Chopra, who is splendid as Jawaharlal Nehru.
Sadly, the same can’t be said about the debutantes, Rajkumar Santoshi‘s daughter, Tanisha Santoshi, who is only allowed to cry on any given situation, and Anuj Saini is who is never allowed to rise above his mediocre role. On the whole, ‘Gandhi Godse – Ek Yudh‘ is a wasted potential that isn’t able to milk its unique concept due to its shoddy execution.
Directed – Rajkumar Santoshi
Starring – Deepak Antani, Chinmay Mandlekar, Tanisha Santoshi
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 130 minutes