Movie Review: Gandhi, My Father

August 07, 2007

The title of the film, the promotional previews, and the other media publicity all give the impression that this movie is about Gandhi Jr., Harilal, and his struggle with being under the shadow of such a dynamic father. But, at the end of it all, it comes across as a tool to sensitize the country to the fact that Gandhiji made many more sacrifices than meets the eye. Yet another movie from Gandhiji's point of view. The emotional trauma of Harilal, Baa and the rest of the family is side-lined. The experience feels incomplete.

The movie starts out brilliantly. I was truly intrigued by the way we see Gandhiji as a father. You could see the human element instead of the usual demi-god status that this simple man is accorded. The parent-child problem felt so real because it was so much like any other parent-child problem - diverse expectations, disappointment in both directions, and the inevitable frustration. It really threw light on a totally different aspect of Gandhiji. Alas, the cookie crumbles. And the director could not maintain this tension past the first half hour.

Soon enough, Gandhiji is put back on the pedestal. And the movie becomes a documentation of the history of our independence. A snippet of what Gandhiji was doing at that time, and another of what Harilal was doing at that time - literally alternating rhythmically. This also gives the movie a very choppy feel. Scenes just cut into each other under the guise of fade-ins and fade-outs rather than flowing with the narrative.

It's the actors that make this worth a watch. You could feel Gandhiji's inclination towards his aspirations for the country while feeling responsibility towards his family. Darshan Jariwala has done great justice to portray the various shades of Gandhiji's personality. I usually don't care for weak, loser-type characters in stories. But, Akshaye Khanna makes you feel for the nervous, diffident, Harilal who has a huge image to live up to. You can sense the pressure the son faces - wanting to impress his father but fortunately or unfortunately discovering that he has a mind and ambitions of his own.

Shefali Shah, as usual, leaves you spell-bound. One look at her and you can imagine what Baa must have been going through at that time. Her make-up person needs special mention - each wrinkle seemed to have received minute attention. And I cannot forget Bhumika Chawla's expressions of frustration and helplessness, though she had very little time on the screen.

I found the background settings extremely distracting. For a movie set in the early-mid 20th century, and for a not-so-bright subject matter, the colors seemed too bright and the objects in the background too new. These things took away from the drama that could have been created. Also, clichéd use of rain to demonstrate pathos in the life of the characters was too in-the face. The solemn background music could not do much to retain the drama given the cheerful visuals. Of course, it could be argued that colors of our walls do not change according to whether we are happy or sad, but a freshly painted wall in the room of a person who doesn't have enough to feed his family, just doesn't gel.

My main complaint though remains that we are not allowed entry into the minds of the characters. A huffy-puffy Harilal is not enough to convey his frustration. His motivations are never explained. Or for that matter, Gandhiji's justifications for his decisions were not clarified either. Even if we do give the benefit of doubt that such information might not be available, the question remains - why make a movie about relationships without knowing the rationale behind the characters' behavior?

I set out to see what being a son to the father of our nation was like. I came out with glimpses of their relationship and a whole lot of unanswered questions. Fortunately, I also came out with some fine performances by the entire cast. Which is enough to keep the movie from being a complete disappointment.

Rating: Wait for video release

Rating Scale (best to worst):
• Must see - on the big screen
• Watch for sure, preferably in theatre
• Wait for video release
• Watch if you have nothing better to do
• Switch channels if it's on cable!

meetu is a Chartered Accountant and an MBA but she’d rather not keep books or run a business. She deployed her analytical skills to reviewing movies instead and, along the way, rediscovered her sense or humor.
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