Here’s a Rs 55-crore question: why has Gandhi Godse – Ek Yudh been released on Republic Day and four days before the anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi’s assassination by Nathuram Godse?
The insensitivity of the timing apart, Rajkumar Santoshi’s new movie is an earnest attempt to debunk myths about the Mahatma that have been floating around for decades and are now firing up WhatsApp – among them, the notion that Gandhi launched a fast unto death to blackmail India’s first independent government to release Rs 55 crore to Pakistan. (More on that here.)
This claim, the movie suggests, triggered Nathuram Godse to pump three bullets into a frail 78-year-old man on January 30, 1948. Santoshi’s polemical drama revists Gandhi’s murder and then takes a leap into an imaginary realm. What if Gandhi survived? And what would he have said to his would-be assassin?
Santoshi’s first film in a decade since Phata Poster Nikla Hero is based on the play Godse@Gandhi.com by noted writer Asghar Wajahat. While never quite shedding its stage origins, the frequently preachy film benefits from an impressive performance by Deepak Antani as Gandhi and a few inspired moments of truth-seeking.
In the movie’s parallel universe, Godse (Chinmay Mandlekar) is denied the pleasure of having killed Gandhi as well as the martyrdom he seeks. An irrelevant sub-plot sees Tanisha Santoshi (the director’s daughter) as a young woman torn between duty and love. The only noteworthy moment from this section is the repurposing of the prayer Vaishnav Jan To as a heartbreak song.
Gandhi Godse – Ek Yudh seeks to provide an antidote to the corrosive narrative about recent Indian history that is being propagated by Hindutva supporters. You diminish Hindustan and Hinduism, Gandhi tells Godse as he points to India’s rich history of inclusivity.
While the film attempts to deliver a fitting reply to Godse’s extremism, it fails to address the ideology he espoused. The film takes the safe route by portraying Godse as naive and petulant, willing to swallow just about any nonsense about Muslims to justify his antipathy towards Gandhi. By creating an equivalence between a towering figure of history and his bigoted killer, the movie ends up legitimising Godse, even as it challenges him ever so often.
While Godse fulminates in prison, Gandhi, having earned a new lease of life, goes about reinventing himself. This portion of the plot, while achingly simplistic and amateurish, is also the most interesting.
The slide into this beginners course in Gandhism is balanced by Deepak Antani’s dexterity in depicting the Mahatma as both saint and human being. Although suspiciously spry for a man who has survived an assassination attempt, Antani has Gandhi’s toothless smile and bustling walk down pat.
It’s a solo show. Chinmay Mandlekar’s perennially eye-rolling Godse is about as credible as a revivified Gandhi. Most of the actors who play other characters from the history books neither look the part nor appear comfortable with their stagy lines and scenes.
At the end of 110 minutes, an answer to the question on why this film exists at all could be: because Mahatma Gandhi can take it. We can’t say the same about his murderer.