Gandhi My Father Review
This week’s big new Bollywood release is director Feroz Abbas Khan’s Gandhi My Father, a film that sheds light on the fractured relationship between the Mahatma and his son Harilal Gandhi.
For a story that’s as dramatic as the one this film attempts to tell, it’s a pity the director fails to tell it dramatically. Gandhi My Father is narrated to you like that boring history lesson that put you to sleep at school.
Now the film aims to convey one very interesting point – the fact that Gandhi in his attempt to be a fair person, ended up being an unfair father. This point is made in the film many times over, and one of the examples given to make this point is that scholarship to England, which Gandhi twice denies his son.
Instead of showing us how exactly Harilal dealt with this betrayal and what went on in his head, the director just moves along with the story, thus never letting us be witness to the growing resentment Harilal feels towards his father. Which is why when we finally see an outburst from Harilal, it comes off looking like he’s over-reacting.
The point I’m trying to make here is that we never really get to understand exactly why Harilal became the rebel that he did. We never really understand why he turned to Islam, and then back again to Hinduism. The thing is, we never really understand Harilal at all. And that’s because the director of this film is too busy focusing on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and his role in the freedom struggle, a story most of us are already familiar with.
To put it simply, Gandhi My Father promises to examine the strained father-son relationship, but it doesn’t so much as show us where the cracks in this relationship first set in.
We understand Harilal had to live with the burden of being Gandhi’s son, but show us why that was a burden to begin with. Show us incidents of their early conflict. For example, it’s not enough that Gandhi merely says he’s opposed to Harilal’s early marriage, tell us why this opposition?
It’s not enough that Kasturba blames her husband for the way her son turned out – for constantly shuttling him between schools in Gujarat and South Africa, for making him relocate every time Gandhi needed to relocate. Words are not enough, show us how these incidents shaped the character of Harilal Gandhi.
What’s more, instead of sticking with the prickly theme of this tenuous Gandhi versus Gandhi relationship, the film goes off on too many tangents, thus diluting the impact of the central theme.
This was never meant to be a film about the struggle for Independence, and yet on many occasions that’s exactly what it seems like, because the director feels almost obligated to take us through all the main events leading upto that historic moment, even though much of it has no relevance to the film’s basic premise – the stormy father-son relationship.
So you see the problem with this film is not that it’s a bad film, but it’s certainly a very confused film. What happens to Harilal’s children after his wife’s death? Does he ever have relationship with them? Where do they suddenly vanish after that one scene in which we see them with the Mahatma and Kasturba? None of these questions are answered in a film that’s basically meant to be about relationships in the Gandhi family.
The film version of an immensely popular play directed by Feroz Abbas Khan himself, Gandhi My Father is a disappointment, no questions asked.
Cinematically, it struggles to translate the filmmaker’s ambitious intention to the screen. Practically every single scene in the film opens and closes with fade-ins and fade-outs, never quite seamlessly leading into each other. On the positive side, there is inherent nobility in the film, which you recognise.
The filmmaker makes every effort to deliver a balanced narrative, trying hard not to take sides, never once judging either father or son, painting neither as the villain. What the film does do, however, is make clear the fact that Gandhi was a difficult patriarch whose ideals may have shaped the nation, but evidently alienated his family.
Of all the actors in the film it’s only Akshaye Khanna who really shines in the role of the luck-deprived Harilal Gandhi. It’s a wonderful performance, and it’s not easy since the role covers virtually the entire lifespan of the character.
But Akshaye brings a rare concoction of innocence and despondency to that part and succeeds in making Harilal a pitiable figure. Just watch him in that scene in which he discovers his wife’s dead, and you’ll realise how much he conveys through body language alone.
Darshan Jariwala, meanwhile, who plays Gandhi Senior, adopts a caricaturish approach to playing the Mahatma in his later years, but it’s the way he humanises the man in his early years as a barrister in South Africa that is the actor’s best contribution to that role.
The abundantly gifted Shefali Shah plays Kasturba, the woman who’s meant to be torn in this father-son conflict, but if she’s unable to bring across that feeling of helplessness then it’s really not so much her fault as it is the fault of a rickety script.
Much effort’s gone into the making of this film and that’s evident throughout, but the film suffers from that inevitable flaw that is eventually what you’ll remember about it when you leave the cinema – it’s just so boring.
I’m going to go with two out of five and a strictly average rating for director Feroz Abbas Khan’s Gandhi My Father, a sincere effort yes, but also a film that could have done with a much tighter screenplay. What we learn from the film is that Gandhi and Harilal made each other very unhappy. And with this film, the director makes us too.