Starring: Akshaye Khanna, Darshan Jariwala, Shefali Shah, Bhoomika Chawla
Director: Feroz Abbas Khan
As the final scene had come to a close and the credits had begun rolling, I looked around and saw the audience glued to their seats. Eventually the sound of creaking chairs began to fill the awkward silence. The air was thick with tension as each one of us had just been exposed to a facet of one of the greatest men to have lived; the man that gave us the right to call ourselves Indians.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is no stranger to celluloid; we have seen him in Richard Attenborough’s epic Gandhi, Jahnu Barua’s Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara and Rajkumar Hirani’s Lage Raho Munnabhai. We have always revered this tiny man in a dhoti for the freedom he bestowed upon us and the exemplary way in which he fought for it. But most of us didn’t stop to think that there was more to Gandhi than what he did for us. We didn’t realise that his world went beyond fighting for us, because it’s all we’ve ever known.
With Gandhi My Father, producer Anil Kapoor and director Feroz Abbas Khan have shed light onto Gandhi the person, rather than Gandhi the icon. Using Gandhi’s political career as a canvas, the film paints a picture of his intricate, complex, and strained relationship with son Harilal Gandhi (Akshaye Khanna). From the onset, the two had dreams directed in opposite directions. Harilal wanted to study abroad and become a barrister like his father, while Gandhi hoped that his son would join him and fight side by side for his ideals and causes. When Gandhi doesn’t give Harilal the opportunity to study abroad, it comes as a huge and almost unforgivable blow to Hari. He decides to abandon his father’s vision and leaves South Africa for India where he joins his wife Gulab (Bhoomika Chawla) and kids. He goes back to school to earn his diploma, but fails three times in a row, leaving him in a financial dump. Each of his schemes to make money falls through and he ends up building a horrible reputation for himself, all the while tarnishing his father’s name. Sick of his failure, Gulab returns to her parent’s house with the kids and Hari stumbles and eventually falls. He turns to alcohol for solace and shuffles back and forth between Hinduism and Islam, in a never ending search for peace. With political tension heating up, the rift between Gandhi and his eldest son grows until it’s beyond repair. This is the story of a man who lived in the enormous shadow of his father, striving to discover his own identity ‘til his last breath.
Once again, it’s a case of a film that could have been brilliant, but turns out simply average. It lacks the spark to make you yearn for more knowledge, to keep your eyes glued to the screen, or to tug severely at your heartstrings. There are scattered moments that scream brilliance but in totality, the film is faulty. The screenplay is too monotonous and wrought out and dialogues don’t pack the punch that they should. On the other hand, there are scenes that make you sit up and take notice, specifically those between Kasturba(Shefali Shah) and Hari which are deeply touching.
There are quite a few obvious loopholes in the script as well. Why does Gandhi oppose Hari’s marriage? What happened to Hari’s kids? How did Gulab reach her sudden demise? What happens to Gandhi’s other children? Director Feroz Khan deserves recognition for crafting some great cinematic moments, but unfortunately he isn’t consistent throughout the movie. Also, hats off to Anil Kapoor for backing such an ambitious and out of the ordinary project! The background score is brilliant and woven into the film flawlessly. Daniel McDonald’s cinematography is equally as perfect, giving the film an extremely classy look. Penny Smith’s make-up enhances the realistic appeal of the film tremendously.
When it comes down to it, it’s the wonderful performances that uplift the film. Akshaye Khanna delivers the greatest performance of his career and dives skin deep into Harilal’s character. He’s the star of the show, and steals the limelight completely. Darshan Jariwala as Gandhi is effective, though he seems to stumble at certain moments. Shefali Shah delivers a knockout performance and proves her prowess as an actress. She’s just outstanding and travels beyond a mundane script to move the audience intensely. Her helplessness and fragility is conveyed to perfection. Bhoomika Chawla is earthy and natural as Gulab, but one wishes she was there for longer.
History makes for good cinema, that’s a known fact. Gandhi My Father is a special film because it gives us something new and innovative and is past ordinary. Unfortunately a sketchy screenplay comes as a damper and does not allow the film to reach the brilliance that it could have. A wonderful and notable attempt with power-packed performances, but it seems incomplete. Still, its worth one watch.