Cast: Deepak Antani, Chinmay Mandlekar, Tanisha Santoshi
Director: Rajkumar Santoshi
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
The yudh in the title of the film, writer-director Rajkumar Santoshi's first venture in a decade, refers as much to a bitter tussle between the two sharply divergent ideologies that Mahatma Gandhi and Nathuram Godse represent as it does to a war to uphold the truth in a fact-free world overrun by divisive forces.
Barring Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, no leader of India's freedom struggle is subjected to abhorrent myths and sought to be discredited as much as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is. Gandhi Godse: At first flush, Ek Yudh looks like an honest attempt to clear the air.
The film is a reductionist, revisionist recreation of the assassination of the Father of the Nation by a Hindu zealot and an imagined aftermath. In trying to get its point across, it does a balancing act that appears to negate the gravity of the crime.
A period drama not only alters history to facilitate a face-to-face debate between Gandhi and Godse, but also ill-advisedly seeks to draw a parallel between a leader who stood up to the might of the British empire and mobilised an entire nation to fight for freedom and a man driven by hate and bigotry.
Gandhi Godse: Ek Yudh means well overall but does not fare particularly well in imagining of what the Mahatma would have said to, and done with, Godse had he not succumbed to the bullets the latter fired on January 30, 1948. Quickly getting the assassination out of the way, the film veers away from history and into the domain of fiction.
Gandhi's battle to create the nation of his dream continues. He fights the ideas of a man blinded by contempt for him and his pluralistic views as well as the political compulsions of the men who run free India's first government, led by Nehru (Pawan Chopra).
If Gandhi Godse: Ek Yudh feels a touch theatrical, there is good reason for it. It is based on a play by Hindi writer Asghar Wajahat, who has also penned the film's often pointed dialogues. The film would have been a stronger takedown of the false anti-Gandhi narrative that enjoys currency in certain quarters had it not been riddled with contradictions to the extent that it is.
The screenwriter, Rajkumar Santoshi himself, isn't always sure what it is exactly that he wants the film to convey. Although it is generally clear on which side he is, he adopts a rather lenient and vacillating approach to fleshing out the character of Godse, played in a starkly stagey manner by Chinmay Mandlekar.
The script gives Godse a rather long rope. It not only lets him air his questionable views on what the newly independent India should be - Gandhi, essayed with impressive conviction by Deepak Antani, avers that his 'assassin' has every right to speak his mind - but also willingly bestowing on his arguments a semblance of legitimacy and logic.
That said, Rajkumar Santoshi's screenplay does have a sprinkling of truth that, taken in isolation as well as in the context of what is going on in today's India, is significant. In one scene, Bhimrao Ambedkar (Mukund Pathak), who underscores the need for equality and inclusion, asserts that the Constitution and not a religious book should guide the nation as it forges a future for its people.
Even as the film stresses the political stances of the founding fathers of the nation, it humanises both Gandhi and Godse but with obviously divergent outcomes. Sparks fly when the two men confront each other. Godse is rage and obduracy personified, Gandhi is an epitome of benign composure. One raves and rants, the other embraces equanimity as he counters the allegations hurled at him.
Gandhi's human failings are brought to the fore - in one scene, 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.
Gandhi's perceived rigidity is sought to be underlined through the means of a wholly dispensable subplot about a young woman (the director's daughter Tanisha Santoshi) who is torn between her desire to work with Bapu and her love for a professor (debutant Anuj Saini).
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.
In a war of ideologies, one uses ideas and not weapons, Gandhi says to Godse, who is firm in his belief that the path he has chosen is above reproach. The film does not let him get away with it, but allows him the scope to redeem himself in the climax.
Post-1948, in an invented universe, Mahatma Gandhi continues to play a key role in the evolution of the nation. His experiments with village-level self-rule, farmers' rights, the protection of forest dwellers and their land, and the eradication of caste oppression - none of which has stopped being burning topics more than 70 years on - are touched upon by the script.
Gandhi's movement for grassroots autonomy puts him on a collision course with Nehru and home minister Vallabhbhai Patel (Ghanshyam Srivastav). Beyond the Gandhi-Godse clash, the film examines the idea of India and the challenges that it has faced from the very outset.
Sarkarein seva nahi karti, hukumat karti hai (governments do not serve, they rule), Gandhi says to justify his decision that the Indian National Congress should be dissolved because it had served its purpose - attainment of independence. A rift occurs between Gandhi and the Congress working committee, which votes against the dissolution proposal.
In a thinly disguised jibe that resonates beyond the situation in which it is verbalised, one member of Gandhi's coterie confronts Godse and points out to the latter: Angrezon ne toh hum par bahut atyachar kiya, tumne ek Angrez pe patthar bhi nahi phenka par Gandhi Baba pe goli chala di (the English subjected us to great torture; you did not throw even a stone at an English but pumped bullets into Gandhi)."
The film establishes the paucity of anti-imperialist heroes in the group that Godse champions in his far-right newspaper published from Pune. Godse cites the examples of Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's Indian National Army as forces that Gandhi and Congress have suppressed, quiet ignoring the fact that none of these freedom fighters had any patience for the ideology that Gandhi's killer stood for.
The problem with the knee-jerky Gandhi Godse: Ek Yudh is that it only sporadically hits the buttons that it should to justify its existence at this point in India's history.
Deepak Antani, Chinmay Mandlekar, Tanisha Santoshi