I walked to this movie with almost no pre-held notions. Well, almost. My friend Atul had been telling me about the play a little while before the movie, how the play was very anti-Gandhi and how the tone had been mellowed in the movie. He also told me about the raving reviews that The Hindu and other newspapers had published for the movie.
As the movie rolled, it became very clear that it was trying to do what a lot of movies these days are doing – bridge the gap between art and commercial cinema. Thus, in the first few scenes you see Harilal playing football and Gandhi having a bath under a jury-rigged shower. But the story soon moves on to the real subject matter – Harilal’s rejection of his father’s ideology and the subsequent loss of his own identity under the shadow of the historical figure of Gandhi.
But, at least on me, the movie failed to have an impact. While it becomes very clear why Gandhi was doing what he was doing, Harilal has no voice in the movie. Gandhi says it in so many words in so many places. He did towards Harilal what he did because he had a personal ideology that he firmly believed in and he could make Harilal no exception to it. Perhaps it was also that in his effort to stay neutral to everyone, he became anti-Harilal just so that no one could allege that he held family above others. Whatever the case was, Gandhi’s idea do become more or less clear.
The same cannot be said about Harilal. First of all, he remains more or less silent in the movie. The silence is quite effective in the first half of the movie where at least some effort is made to explain what Harilal is. But later things go completely awry. Imagine this scene. We see Harilal with a prostitute. As he goes out of the room, he is chased by two men who round him up and say that they are not here for their money but with a message from Zakaria sahib who wanted to see Harilal. Hari goes to this person, has food and next we see him converting to Islam.
Who was this muslim person? What did he and Hari talk about? Why did Hari decide to convert to Islam? Was is just for the money or was there something else involved? What did he feel about leaving his religion for money? What did he think his parents would think?
None of this is shown. And even amateur writers would not commit the mistake of leaving these things out of a character development. The film is full of such things.
Thus, I did not like the movie much. The movie is a laudable effort just because of the subject matter it deals with. Perhaps I will write about that in a later post.