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The Gandhian critic who inadvertently followed the path of non-violence – Beyond Bollywood

Actor, director Randeep Hooda’s film is comprehensive and unapologetic in its Savarkar vs Gandhi ideological clash.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️? (2.5 / 5)

By Mayur Lookhar

For an industry that was long aloof to the idea of political films, Bollywood has been consistently churning out such content in recent years. Very few have succeeded, but such films often trigger a debate in social, political circles. Has it changed perception? Are noisy news debates or social media a reflection of change? Honestly, beyond the respective narrative, there is little evidence of ideological transformation of the common man. In the ever increasing materialistic world, does the common man truly care? This is an age where a Mahatma Gandhi is perhaps still relevant, not ideologically, but purely of his imprints on the currency.

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966)

It’s here that a certain Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966) is likely to evoke some curiosity. It stems not from ‘who is he’ but the century old controversies around him. Was he a veer or maafiveer (no freedom fighter but an apologist)? Writer, actor, director, producer Randeep Hooda aspires to dispel the maafiveer notion through his biographical film Swatantrya Veer Savarkar [2024].

Before we comment on the film, Hooda has been vocal in his support of Savarkar right throughout the film’s promotions. He wasn’t a maafiveer. He had no role in Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.

Hooda even cited the 2018 Supreme Court order squashing a petition that sought a reinvestigation into Gandhi’s assassination. This should put the debate to rest. It won’t as long as Savarkar is caught in the political slugfest.  

Randeep Hooda had defended Savarkar’s many clemency pleas as means to pursue India’s freedom goal. However, the condition of his release, first from Kala Pani [Andaman Island] and later from Ratnagiri, stipulated that he wouldn’t indulge in any anti-establishment, violent activities. Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination in 1948 brought Savarkar under suspicion. Though there was no evidence to implicate his role, but Savarkar was condemned by the then mandarins as a national villain.

Where does your reviewer stand? Honestly, who is this writer to question a Savarkar? Haven’t enough learned minds debated it for decades? The confusion, though, stemmed from author Anant Viththal Keer aka Dhananjay Keer (1913-1984), who republished his 1950 publication, Savarkar and his Times, as Veer Savarkar. It reportedly contained some telling material, which Keer claimed was provided to him by Savarkar only.

The 1966 addition naturally reopened the Veer-maafiveer debate. Savarkar didn’t live to read or contest Keer’s claims. They remain a conjecture.

Savarkar detractors have long labelled him a maafiveer. Hooda’s smartly hit back at such critics by asking how many Congress leaders have served jail time in Kala Pani? Chuck aside the politics, but is it mandatory for a person to die to be labelled a veer? The litmus test of patriotism lied in Savarkar’s deeds post his release from jail. History tells us that his subsequent public actions were constitutional. Though a strong support of Hindutva, he stressed more on cow care than worship, and urged Hindus to refrain from unhealthy food. He strived to end untouchability. Was opposing Gandhian principles, Quit India Movement unconstitutional?

The Randeep Hooda film is honest in addressing most controversies, in particularly the clemency pleas. There is no distortion of words. Whilst throwing out the British was his chief goal, Hooda’s film stresses more on Savarkar’s ideological clash with Mahatma Gandhi.

The film opens with a text dispelling the notion of India’s freedom through non-violent means alone. If not the person, the film is unapologetic in its condemnation of Gandhian principles. Hooda needed a feeble Gandhi, and he found one in actor Rajesh Khera. Respect shouldn’t blind one in not questioning eminent figures. This country is notorious for hero worshipping. The criticism of Gandhi is fine, but if people in a press show are clapping to such scenes, then that’s not cinema but slander.

We often become what we hate. When mentoring the secret society Abhinav Bharat, Savarkar believed in bullet. From the time he was imprisoned, tortured in Kala Pani, Savarkar inadvertently found himself resorting to non-violent means. The same continued post his release. Savarkar, however, was barred by clemency stipulations. He had a quiet word with a Subhash Chandra Bose and later with a young Nathuram Godse. There is no sinister message in the brief conversation with the latter.

Savarkar was increasingly drawn to constitutional means, democracy. Jeez, how ironical that a man (Savarkar) who advocated freedom through violence, died while fasting for weeks. Whereas M.K. Gandhi, a champion of non-violence, died taking tjre bullets. The one thing common to both was the spectacle frame (Windsor style round glasses). Hooda, though, had a different vision for India’s freedom.

For decades, the Savarkar story has been confined to Gandhi’s assassination, being a maafiveer. Randeep Hooda gives an insight into Savarkar’s time in London, how he topped in his law school, with the hope that an Indian barrister can shake the Crown. All he gets is two life terms, and a sentence to hell.

Randeep Hooda in Swatantrya Veer Savarkar

The torturous time in Kala Pani (Cellular jail in Andaman Island) brings out the shapeshifter in Hooda. Jeez, how the actor passionately reduces himself to all skin and bone. A Kala Pani exposes British’s divide and rule policy as majority of the guards are Muslims, who derive great pleasure in torturing the Hindus. This is where Hooda runs the risk of stereotyping, plus it indirectly serves a certain suspected majoritarian (present-day) narrative.

Thankfully, going forward Hooda’s Savarkar explains his broader idea of Hindutva whereby he downplays religion and emphasizes more on love for motherland.

Coming back to Kala Pani, it’s remarkable how after years of enduring torture, Savarkar would compel his chief tormentor jailor David Barry to show him some respect. Barry offers him a drink. The battered Indian political prisoner would reply, “How can we have a conversation when I’m in handcuffs,” Savarkar would go on to tell him that if the British leave India, maybe, the two nations can be friends and even fight together someday. Barry would die from guilt while sailing back to England. Earlier, Sir Reginald Craddock (Mark Bennington) had his shock and awe moment with Savarkar. After Rocket Boys, the American actor continues to make a mark in Hindi cinema.

Hooda’s film culminates with Savarkar’s death in 1966. Not before it makes you rethink on Savarkar’s image, Gandhian principles, the pre and post independence political events. The post 1966 controversies around Savarkar aren’t touched.

In his assessment, Hooda described his Swatantrya Veer Savarkar as the most anti-propaganda film. The onus then lies on those who’ve long labelled him a maafiveer. We leave that to the concerned lot.

As a film, Swatantrya Veer Savarkar barely builds engagement in the first 90 minutes. Hooda, too, appears to be going through the motions. The film comes alive in the second half. That is when the true veer takes over. Not through violence, but extreme endurance. The Gandhian critic taking the path of non-violence.

The rise in drama naturally ulpfits Hooda, who then carries the film on his shoulders. You never want a clone. An actor should imbibe the values that the real life character stood for. It’s tough for an Haryanvi to sound like a Maharashtrian from Ratnagiri. But as always, Hooda is sincere and dedicated to his craft doling out another spine chilling performance.

Hooda and primary writer Utkarsh Naithani have researched well. The dialogues are fine, but the early screenplay feels like a snoozefest. Bulk of the blame lies on its average cast with even Hooda taking time to get into his groove. Amit Sial has little to offer as Ganesh Savarkar, Vinayak’s elder brother.

Source: Ankita Lokhande Instagram

Maybe, the real Yamunanai spoke little. That explains Ankita Lokhande’s restrained show.  Yamunabai’s intro scene is, however, impressive. Here is Vinayak and his family out to seek her hand. He makes it clear to the girl’s parents that it will be tough to live with a man who eyes revolution. You don’t see Lokhande, but director Hooda and his cinematographer finely capture her curious eyes that are peeping through what looks like a tilted charpai. Lokhande virtually remains in the shadow.

Randeep perhaps errs in his casting for Gandhi, Tilak (Santosh Ojha), Nehru, Jinnah (Ashwin Dhar), and Madam Cama, poorly essayed by his sister Anjali.

The one constant is the compelling production design and intense background score.

We haven’t seen the Marathi film Veer Savarkar (2001) that was critically acclaimed. Savarkar has always been respected amongst the Marathi people. Despite its flaws, Randeep Hooda’s Swatantrya Veer Savarkar should hopefully help the rest of India get a balanced perspective on India’s most controversial freedom fighter.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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