“Swatantrya Veer Savarkar, A Near Masterpiece That Goes Beyond The Gandhi-Nehru Rhetoric” – A Subhash K Jha Review

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Is there a more underrated actor in Indian cinema than Randeep Hooda? Opportunities to prove his heavy mettle seldom come his way. But when given a meaty role, Hooda lets us know what divides the men from the boys.

In Swatantrya Veer Savarkar, Hooda not only proves himself an able if somewhat self-indulgent director, but he also portrays one of the unsung founding fathers of Azad Bharat, the man and leader who dared to call out Mahatma Gandhi for his sometimes-myopic view of secularism.

Indeed, one of the highlights of this remarkable bio-pic are the dialogues between a benign Gandhi (played with a slightly smug self-love by Rajesh Khera) and an aggressive Savarkar. Gandhians may not agree with the portrayal of Gandhi as an incorrigible peacenik. Good films do that: they force open uncomfortable debates.

As an actor, Hooda is fully prepared for any combat that Savarkar must face. His physical transformation as he undergoes decades of imprisonment and torture, is not short of a miracle. Gaunt cheeks, rotten teeth, ribbed chest…. He is one with all the pain and suffering that his character goes through.

This is perhaps the single-most immersive portrayal of a political reader we have seen since Ben Kingsley’s Gandhi.

As a director Hooda flings open a wide canvas of characters and situations to define the genesis of India from a colony to free country. This is the kind of bludgeoned screen heroism that risks looking unheroic for the sake of authenticity.

As we see various characters walk through that commodious door of history we are given sharply revealing view of how political figures are highlighted or inversely erased from posterity depending on who is in power.

And Savarkar was most certainly a figure that got obliterated in the rush of political panegyrics. Hats off to Randeep Hooda for choosing to shed light on an unsung hero. I only wish he had pruned the footage more prudently and cut the otherwise-admirable film down to size.

It is quite evident that Hooda loves every moment of what he has shot. And why should he not? He has de-constructed history to fill in some vital gaps. While Hooda takes centre stage, other actors, for example, Amit Sial as Savarkar’s elder brother and Mark Benington as a moderate British officer Reginald Craddock, sent to speak to Savarkar in prison , leave a lasting impression.

One of the finest passages of articulated interaction is the conversation between Savarkar and Craddock. It begins with the two measuring one another from their place in life and ends with Savarkar asking the Brit for paper and a pen.

“I love to write,” Savarkar’s eyes light up. It is brilliantly written and acted moment of bonding between the Colonist and the Colonial. We only see him so happy once before when he spots his brother in prison.

Not all of what has gone into this lengthy is as edifying. Some of the incidental characters and the tangential events are redundant and make the film look over-plotted.

But the heart that beats under the rhetorics of nationalism, is never off the mark. Arvind Krishna’s cinematography instils a guarded grandeur to the storytelling. Tackiness is largely avoided and so is over-sentimentality. The only sentimental celebration of freedom has Savarkar limping through a long prison corridor after another bout of torture.

In his body language, Randeep Hooda conveys he means business. This film about a neglected chapter of history may tax your patience at times. But it is ultimately enormously rewarding.

Our Rating

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