Gandhi Godse – Ek Yudh Review: Idea Gone Astray

A movie that seeks to explore ‘alternate history’ can’t be so superficial, sighs Utkarsh Mishra.

Over a decade ago, with my limited reading on the subject, I often tried to explore the idea of what would have happened had Mahatma Gandhi survived the assassination attempt by Nathuram Vinayak Godse and others on January 30, 1948.

Later, when I got to read a little more, I realised that it was not entirely a matter of speculation as the one in which he was killed was not the only attempt on Gandhi’s life.

In fact, the men who finally got him had failed a couple of times earlier; one of them was also arrested after an unsuccessful bid only days before Gandhi was actually killed.

All Gandhi did was to praise his attackers and say, ‘Bacche hain (they are kids). They don’t understand. After my death, they would realise that the budda (the old man) was right.’

Therefore, when I first heard that a film is being made — by Rajkumar Santoshi, no less — on an imaginary dialogue between Gandhi and Godse, I was intrigued to watch it, even while being apprehensive about it, given the times in which we are living.

It turned out to be worse than I feared.

And while I did expect a benign treatment of Godse, to see such a diabolical attempt to redeem him was indeed a surprise.

Gandhi Godse – Ek Yudh is based on playwright Asghar Wajahat’s play [email protected]. The name of the play is itself suggestive of what the writer wanted to do, bringing Godse’s darkness to Gandhi’s light.

The movie, on the other hand, seeks to achieve the opposite.

First and foremost, the screenplay is too lazy, lifting most of the dialogues and sequences word by word from the play. Even the treatment of issues outside the play is too parochial.

The scenes where we see giants like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Dr B R Ambedkar, J B Kriplani and others discussing matters of national importance, looked like a fancy dress competition at a school where children dressed as prominent figures parrot the most stereotypical lines attributed to them.

There are childish attempts at humour even while handling such a serious subject, dishonest portrayals of several pro-Partition episodes in Delhi that give leverage to Godse’s arguments later and an unnecessary sub-plot, which although is a part of the play but could have been avoided in the movie to make it more pointed.

Not to mention the sub-par acting by most of the cast, especially by debutantes Tanisha Santoshi — playing Sushma, a young woman who wants to spend her life in service by being with Gandhi — and Anuj Saini, who plays Sushma’s lover, Naren.

Chinmay Mandlekar as Godse is the only actor worth the salt, which, sadly, goes against the spirit of the play, because the play never attempts to show Godse as some kind of enlightened man, who decided to pick up the gun against a tyrant as he could see no other way out.

The play depicts Godse as a man of limited understanding by making him repeat the same lines again and again.

He could not come up with any argument against Gandhi other than the oversimplified one that ‘Gandhi is responsible for the Partition of Akhand Bharat because he hates Hindus and loves Muslims’.

The movie, on the other hand, shows Godse as more intellectually inclined that he actually was.

In reality, Godse was not very educated.

He failed his matriculation examination with very poor marks in English. In his own words, ‘he gave up school forever in disgust and capriciousness’.

Godse’s only claim to erudition is his statement during the trial where he lists his reasons for killing Gandhi.

However, as the Mahatma’s great-grandson and noted author Tushar Gandhi writes, ‘The statement was definitely not written by Godse, who never displayed such a masterly command over language. His writing style was loud, crass, abusive and threatening. The document has been very cleverly written to emotionally exploit and influence even the most liberal of minds.’

Tushar Gandhi suggests, and verily so, that the statement was drafted by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who ‘had absolute mastery over such hypnotic use of language’.

Godse was also not as audacious as the movie shows him to be.

He was not the one pulling the trigger in the group’s initial plan to assassinate Gandhi.

In his book The Men Who Killed Gandhi, author Manohar Malgonkar details Godse and his accomplices’s plan to kill Gandhi.

They had decided to shoot the Mahatma from the window of one of Birla House’s rooms that overlooked his seat at the prayer meeting.

Godse’s accomplice Digambar Badge, who later turned approver, was to pull the trigger and lob a grenade.

Another member of the group, Madanlal Pahwa, would explode a gun cotton charge before this act to create panic.

The other members of the group were Nathuram’s brother Gopal Godse, Vishnu Karkare, a Hindu Mahasabha leader, and Shankar, Badge’s servant.

All five had grenades with them that they would throw into the crowd after Badge would fire the first shot, not caring about the number of casualties it would cause.

But the leaders of the group — Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte, both of whom were later hanged for the Mahatma’s assassination — who had hatched this sinister plot did not carry any arms with them. Their job was to ‘guide the operation by giving signals’.

Such was the ‘bravado’ of Godse who is presented before us as some kind of revolutionary!

This assassination bid that they carried out on January 20, 1948, failed because Badge developed cold feet and could not fire. But Pahwa had already exploded the gun cotton charge and was arrested. The rest fled the spot.

It was after this failed attempt that Godse decided to carry out the task himself.

As opposed to popular belief, Godse did not surrender after finally succeeding in killing Gandhi on January 30, 1948. He tried to flee, but was caught and pinned down.

In the play, Godse constantly credits one ‘Guruji’ for helping him find the path that he has found.

He is thereby made to sound like a brainwashed, indoctrinated, disciple rather than an intellectual whose beliefs have evolved after critical thinking.

But the movie makes no such effort.

Not just that, while lifting the dialogues of the play in most scenes, the movie has skipped over the part where Gandhi grills Godse about Savarkar’s beliefs and actions. As well as the part where Gandhi tells Godse that the map of his ‘Akhand Bharat’ is actually a map of British India and leaves out large parts of areas where the Aryans once lived or areas that were once under the Mauryan Empire.

These scenes in the play sought to show Godse as reckless and irresponsible. Not including them in the movie gave more weight to Godse’s character.

On the other hand, the movie doesn’t forget to make Godse insult Nehru by telling Gandhi, ‘Woh tumhara, woh kya naam hai uska?‘ to which Gandhi replies in a low voice ‘Jawahar’.

And the audience bursts unto laughter.

While it made attempts to dispel some of the wrongly held notions about Gandhi, there’s no lack of misrepresentation of historical facts.

Yes, Gandhi did write a note on January 27, 1948, three days before his death, that ‘the Congress in its present shape and form, as a propaganda vehicle and parliamentary machine, has outlived its use’ and that ‘the AICC resolves to disband the existing Congress organisation and flower into a Lok Sevak Sangh’.

But it was not a diktat. Rather, Gandhi wrote it as a part of ‘Draft Constitution of the Congress’ and he was killed before it could be put before the party.

This draft was later released to the press after his assassination and that’s the source of the widespread claim today that Gandhi wanted to dissolve the Congress.

As Tushar Gandhi writes, ‘What he meant was that a coalition of persons subscribing to disparate political ideologies could no longer survive… so it would be best to disband the coalition and constituents must freely form more homogenous political parties.’

Though the play has the same sequence, the movie should have cared more about the nuance and could have treated it in a better manner.

But the biggest travesty in the movie is how Godse makes Gandhi realise his folly in not letting Sushma marry Naren.

In the play, Gandhi realises it after Kasturba appears in his dream and uses some strong words and after Sushma’s mother, who is also his ardent follower, warned him with consequences if anything happens to her daughter.

The movie did show the sequence of Kasturba appearing in Gandhi’s dream but it is eventually a sermon by ‘Nathuram Vinayak Godseji‘ that finally won over Gandhi.

The climax is even worse, which is an improvisation that is not part of the play.

It reminds the viewer of Kamal Haasan’s Hey! Ram, in which a potential assassin is transformed by coming into contact with Gandhi but it thoroughly lacks the depth that such an improvisation requires, or that Hey! Ram had.

Overall, the movie’s biggest problem is trying to show a play meant for the stage as it is on big screen. A play, especially a satirical one, is allowed to use drama, loud acting, silly humour and reductio ad absurdum.

But a movie that seeks to explore an ‘alternate history’ cannot be so superficial.

It has to pay attention to nuance and also make the audience understand it, especially at a time when there’s a need to be extremely careful while dealing with historical subjects.


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