This is one of the most oft-quoted counterfactuals to contemporary Indian history, isn’t it- what if Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the unique leader of India’s social and political independence movement, had not been shot by a Hindu fanatic?
Would the hold/climb of India’s Hindu nationalist parties/forces have been stronger just after independence, leading to the partition of India?
Hence, Muslims, for whom faith = nation, got Pakistan. Those with more secular ideologies—those who felt that religion should not have a direct role in the affairs of the state, and that the only way to preserve India’s diversity was a pluralistic constitution—had India.
As soon as we lose Gandhi, a staunch Hindu, to a Hindu fundamentalist, this communal debate gets quieter, doesn’t it? Both the irony and the reality of this act of violence is not hidden from anyone. If hatred can only do so much for an ideology, then who will it spare; And what good can it do for anyone?
What if Gandhi had survived that bullet on January 30, 1948? Rajkumar Santoshi’s film based on Asghar Wajahat’s play Godse@Gandhi.Com, Gandhi Godse – at the center of a war, in Ghalib’s words, ‘Yun hota to kya hota’ in reverse history, hits theaters exactly 75 years later Gandhi’s assassination.
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Why did I watch the movie, or can anyone watch it? Because this is the first film in a decade to be directed by one of India’s biggest mainstream filmmakers, Santoshi, who has control over the script/technique, who over the years has been giving us cracker melodrama (injured, fatal), comedy Tempts fast with (Andaz Apna Apna). Patriotism (Pukar), also in a period piece (The Legend of Bhagat Singh).
To trace Santoshi’s own film antecedents, she—referring to director Govind Nihalani as her mentor in the film’s credit-roll—started her career with the iconic Ardh Satya (1983). Nihalani, in turn, was Shyam Benegal’s longtime cinematographer.
The aesthetics, therefore, are not in doubt with Gandhi Godse, either – competently crafted shimmer with clean frames and slight sepia tones, two stunning looks starring Gandhi (Deepak Antani, with that toothless grin) Set reliably among hand-picked actors from Ramchandra Vinayak Godse, nicknamed ‘Nathuram’ (Chinmoy Mandlekar).
The eponymous main characters meet and argue with each other, when the latter fails to kill the former. Knowing Gandhi – so tolerant of ideas with which he disagreed – he could easily have met his would-be assassin in person.
RRR similarly re-imagined the meeting of historical figures (Sitaram Raju, Komaram Bheem). SS Rajamouli credits Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (with Nazis/Hitler) as an inspiration. A Sreekar Prasad has edited both Gandhi Godse and RRR. Bhagat Singh has decorated the logo of Santoshi’s film production company in the initial slate.
I thought about it when the picture in front questions Gandhi’s special role in achieving Indian independence. What about Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Lala Lajpat Rai, “Cycron” others? Undoubted.
What attracted Indians/the world to Gandhi though, and still continues to do, is the tempting idea of punching so much above one’s weight, with nonviolent resistance alone. It is also possibly a life saver. Such was the posthumous impact of his works/ideas on other global movements, combating injustice and speaking truth to power that if there was no Gandhi, we would have had to invent him.
Most sensible people get it. Hardcore Gandhians might even tell you that if there is something you haven’t understood about the ‘Mahatma’ (as ‘Gurudev’ was named by Tagore) – it means you have yet to fully understand the ‘Father’. have not yet reached the stage of maturity. nation’ (consecrated by ‘Netaji’ Bose). Was Gandhi God? Well there isn’t one, is there?
What if you only focused on Gandhi’s perceived flaws. Says his ambiguous view on brahmacharya/sex, that picture of Gandhi Godse. Somewhat also acknowledging that, like a good app, Gandhi was quick to upgrade himself even during his lifetime.
Historians testify that he was also on caste, race, gender, worldview in general. To reverse the POV, Santoshi’s film sees Gandhi as the one responsible for the Partition. Can we debate this?
People in the Indian subcontinent always have. Before independence, many people were busy sowing/growing Hindu-Muslim hatred, instead of fighting British imperialism. Now, on to the most popular question: what if Gandhi had lived, what would he have thought of the India he saw?
In Gandhi Godse Jawaharlal Nehru (Pawan Chopra) announces that Gandhi has survived Godse’s bullets, the fictional history, or ‘faction’, with the Mahatma demanding the dissolution of the Indian National Congress.
Congress rejected the proposal. He starts an experimental ashram, arguing for farmers’ rights, village governments, railing against a power plant project and for his government. Can totally see that happening!
India’s idealistic freedom fighters were, after all, not acting on the impulses of real politics in governance and the inevitable greed in public life. After this, the politicians of India did.
It is fascinating to look at Gandhi’s post-life this way. Only that the main character in front of him in the picture, standing for “Hindu, Hindutva, Hindu Rashtra”, is such a top level newspaper columnist that Prime Minister Nehru is moved by his contrary views. In the film you see Godse allegedly as a “Hindu Hriday Samman”.
By the way, Gandhi hated cinema. It seems to me that if he had lived longer he would have changed his mind on that. How would he have got a picture that elevates his killer as a parallel hero? I mean, WTF is Godse known for, other than killing a man for God’s sake.
Mayank Shekhar tries to understand the mass culture. He tweeted @mayankw14
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The views expressed in this column are those of the individual and do not represent the views of the paper