It was, well, disappointing.
I went to see a masterpiece, and I came back with a feeling that my hopes on (a) first time director Firoz Abbas Khan, (b) first time producer Anil Kapoor, and (c) Akshaye Khanna who was given a challenging role for the first time, were awry and unnecessary.
The subject of this movie “The stormy relationship between Harilal and Gandhi”, “How the father of the nation could not become an ideal father of his own son”, or “To the nation, he was a father, but to his son, he was a father whom he never had” aroused me so much that I’ve been waiting to see this movie since the first day I watched the promos.
What a wonderful subject – almost wasted by below-average performances (especially by the pivotal characters), could-have-been-better direction, bad make-up (Gandhi’s ears kept changing its size!), stifling screenplay (too many unnecessary jumps between India and Africa), slow (at times almost somnolent) pace, and..well, execrable story-telling!
The emotional drama between Gandhi and Harilal was simply underplayed. Harilal’s character goes through many “mood swings”, but his emotional journey through all those sentiments is left somewhat unexplored. For example, when Harilal goes to Africa for the first time, leaving behind his pregnant wife, Gandhi doesn’t even show up at the port to pick him up, and we are not told how Harilal felt about it (of course, we can assume that he must have felt terrible, but it would have been interesting to see Harilal’s emotional reaction – did he feel angry? Or sad? Or being a little childish, did he feel abandoned?). Another example is Harilal’s conversion to Islam – which should have been more explanatory (By the way, here’s a link to Gandhi’s speech on Harilal’s conversion to Islam: http://www.hvk.org/hvk/articles/0103/354.html.) .
It was difficult for me to grasp how a movie revolving around Gandhi’s life and his struggle for independence didn’t even cared to show other political leaders of that time period. Not that it was necessary for the story, but there are several public appearances of Gandhi (giving a speech, attending an evening-prayer, imprisonment at the Aga Khan palace etc.) where I was trying catch a glance of Nehru or Sardar. You only see them in those black-and-white footages which were overused throughout in the movie.
Gladly, not everything about this movie was bad! The cinematography (by David MacDonald) was sleek (the only complain I have is – there were too many close-up shots). Shefali Chaaya and Bhumika Chawla gave wonderful performances. Akshaye Khanna acted well in some scenes (like, the Sadma-style scene when he comes to the railway station to meet his mother). Production design was good. I liked how Feroz Shah captured many Gujarati traditional scenes – all the colorful costumes looked authentic and pleasant to the eyes. Background score by Piyush Kanojia was mesmerizing. (When Gandhi is talking to Kasturba about Harilal’s conversion, and tells her that Harilal and Abdullah means the same, you can hear “Ishwar Allah tero naam” in the background. Wonderful!) The irony between Gandhi’s attitude towards untouchables (urging society to accept them) and the denunciation of his own son (making him like an untouchable to the society) is also played masterfully.
I was glad that this movie stayed away from Gandhi-bashing when it came to the partition of India. Gandhi’s opinion about the partition (he was against the partition) is well proclaimed in the movie. (I just wanted to mention this here, because I know many people who hold Gandhi responsible for the partition).
The movie was also honest about Gandhi’s contribution to Harilal’s miserable life. Someone could have easily made a movie that blames Gandhi entirely for his elder son’s bad fate (that movie would have been titled: the Dark side of Gandhi!). But this is handled very nicely. Yes, Gandhi should have spent more time with his son (and family for that matter), he should have listened to Harilal’s aspirations to go to London and become a barrister, but (a) Harilal had some inherent likelihood to go ashtray in life (After all, not all his sons turned to liquor, prostitution and betrayals in business.), and (b) how he was always seen as Gandhi’s son also should have played a significant role in shaping his life. These two causes were depicted well in the movie.
I felt sorry for Harilal, and even more so, I felt sorry for Gandhi for not being able to save his son from his ill-fate (according to Gandhi, not being able to convey his message to Harial and Mohammed Ali Jeenha were two of his biggest failures in his life).
The movie is based on the novel Harilal Gandhi: A Life by Chandulal Bhagubhai Dalal.