Saturday, August 04, 2007


RUNTIME: 128 min.

The road to hell is paved by good intentions.
- Henry George Bohn (1796-1884)

I, from the bottom of my heart, believe that this Bohn quote is only half true when it comes to Gandhi, My Father. I would do so much as to stand up and fight whosoever accuses Feroz Abbas Khan of pretension. He has made a bad movie, agreed. He has made a stupefying bore, agreed. At time the movie is incomprehensible, agreed. But not pretension, a sin that almost every director in the Hindi film industry is guilty of. This is a part straight from his heart, right from the play Mahatma vs. Gandhi to his adaptation of his own play. And it is for that good intention alone that it deserves two stars. But as they say, good intentions don’t make a good movie. Director Feroz Khan wants to tell a poignant tale, a tale which every father and son would identify with. Sadly, the movie fails to connect at any level.
Let me give you a fair idea of how unfocussed this movie is, despite the lack of any songs (a feature I highly appreciated), despite running for a mere 128 minutes (a rarity among Hindi films). If the movie would have been titled Harilal, My Son it wouldn’t make any difference. If the movie would have been titled plain Gandhi it still wouldn’t have made any difference. The idea behind this project is ambitious but to channel that ambition is what makes a finely executed product. The scope is vast- the movie primarily intends to encompass the father-son relation at the same time wanting to present a hitherto untried earthly depiction of The Mahatma, a brief insight into the relationship that existed between The Mahatma and Kasturba and the vast backdrop of the Indian freedom struggle. It touches or at least it tries to touch each and every one of those points but fails miserably to do justice to any of them.
At the heart is the question- Did the son fail his ambitious father or did the father fail his simple-minded son? Actually this question is at the heart of the promos, the trailers, the news coverage and all the pre-release hype. The movie, as a matter of fact, doesn’t even portray a full blown portrayal of Harilal. All it manages to do, without even a shred of doubt is to portray Harilal as a straight forward loser who not only failed his father but failed himself and his wife. And it doesn’t do it the smart way; it does so because it pays scant attention to where the Harilal character is going or for that matter and character is going. All it manages to do is hop from one time frame to another without ever grasping the tenderness of the father-son relation. The relation is frustratingly cold and distant and not even for a moment does our heart ache. The beauty of capturing the chemistry is not just fine acting but capturing the moments, capturing the silence. All we get here is a number of soulless dialogues as to where the father-son relationship is towards. It is like a news report; somebody from the father-son-mother trio comes up and gives us either an update or heads up about what is latest on the relation. Not a single frame feels the pain.
There is a fundamental flaw in the movie, a flaw that crept in right during the adaptation stage. And that is a failure at some level to understand that what works for a play needn’t necessarily work for a feature film. Often what is needed is a thorough re-working of the entire product to suit to the needs of the new medium. Gandhi, My Father never, even for a moment feels like a feature film. Forget that there is a problem with the editing; in fact there is no editing. The entire film feels strangely episodic and I mean that in no good way. Two consecutive scenes put together do not make any sense. Each and every scene has birth, life and death of its own that has nothing to do with any previous scene. In fact, the screenplay itself must have been written in that manner for the flaw seems to have its root right during the conception. A film, to work at any level primarily needs fluidity. After all what is a film but the narration of a story? Feroz Khan seemed to miss this simple truth and that is a shame.
Another important trick the film might have missed is to show the father-son relation right from its origin. What really happened that made The Mahatma to come to South Africa and leave Harilal behind? What effect did that have on little Hari? That sure would have had some effect on a sixteen year old not to have ones parents right by his side. And why is The Mahatma against Hira’s marriage to Gulab? Many of these important questions, some of them fantastic tricks to bring the audiences on the same page are left entirely unanswered. Yet sequences that make absolutely no sense or have no business being in the movie are included. At least three lengthy sequences involving rituals are shown. And they serve no purpose other than to show customs and traditions. It felt sad, really sad. What a waste of talent?
The movie and Feroz Khan in particular seems to be obsessed with beautiful, ironic or poetic images. Be it the silhouette of The Mahatma and Kasturba sitting in front of the sea or The Mahatma and Hari meditating in the morning. These images work spectacularly well as a support element, not as the central strength because they never can be that. Yet the cinematography fails to capture the time, the period. When real black and white footage is intercut with color film sequences, they make the latter seem so ugly, so artificial. Towards the end when the partition is touched upon, the film so glaringly looks artificial against the black and white sequences. It was a major error for the characters from the color images seemed to be from a different period than the one depicted in the real footage. I do not intend to discuss any more the technical elements of the film for it would be talking beside the point.
Darshan Zariwala isn’t special as The Mahatma. He is good in parts but in some sequences he falls flat on his face, especially his monologue about the partition. Not for a moment does it seem he is Gandhi, he is always “acting” the part. And he made me quite conscious of the same. In some sequences his portrayal came across as cold, distant and cynical and not in a flattering way; in fact he reminded me of Tom Cruise’s Vincent (Collateral). Strange thing that was and very unfortunate too. Akshaye Khanna deserves a huge round of applause just for putting a straight face through a thankless screenplay. I don’t know what background he was given but the script doesn’t do any favors to his part. He turns in quiet a wonderful performance. Shefali Shetty (Satya) is another bravura performance solely because her task is even tougher than Akshaye’s. She tries her best to convey herself in every sequence she is in. I loath over-smart audiences cracking jokes during a screening. But here, I’m ashamed to admit that I enjoyed them, in fact I wanted them to come up with more of those. I don’t fault them at all, the movie is so boring. At a point during the movie, one audience member threw up his arms and exclaimed- “What the hell is happening?” Well, that single line pretty much sums up the entire experience for me. I feel sad, really for this could have been such a great thing. It had everything, absolutely everything except for one- proper application. The Mahatma deserves much, much better. We owe it to him.

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