Monday, August 06, 2007

Gandhi and Cash 

Gandhi My Father

This year, when the quality of films has not been too exciting so far, at least Gandhi My Father by Feroz Abbas Khan stands out for its attempt at brave and offbeat cinema.

Based on the hugely successful play Gandhi Viruddh Gandhi, the film tells of the tragedy of Mahatma Gandhi’s (Darshan Jariwala) oldest son Harilal (Akskaye Khanna), whose life was blighted by his birth into the family of man who has already dedicated his life to the cause of the nation’s freedom.

Mahatma Gandhi’s wife Kasturba (Shefali Shah) and presumably, the other (unseen in adulthood) children understood that. Harilal’s defiance and rebelliousness just made him self-destruct. He died destitute in a Mumbai hospital a little after the death of his father—the film begins with a dying vagabond being brought into hospital, and goes into flashback.

Mahatma Gandhi leaves Harilal in India when the rest of the family moves to South Africa; he opposes Harilal’s marriage to Gulab (Bhoomika Chawla)—not clear why. Later he refuses to send Harilal abroad to study law, which is his life’s ambition. His explanation is that he does not want people to think he is partial to his son, and also that there is more to life than formal education.

Again it’s not clear if Harilal had any talent at all—he seems to fail his matric all the time, even when he returns to India with his own, rather large, family. Later, Gandhi’s attempts at reconciling with his son fail repeatedly, as Harilal falls deeper into a cycle of failure and despair. His drinking, debauchery, bad business decisions, conversion to Islam all seem more like cries for help rather than revolt, but father and son just can’t reach each other, and Kasturba sorrowfully witnesses the widening gulf.

While the film is strong at thematic level, Khan’s handling leaves something to be desired. Aesthetically the film is fine and the period recreation top class. The problem is with the scattered screenplay at the absence of a point of view.

Did Gandhi’s control over his family’s fate border on cruelty? If not, then Harilal is just an idiotic loser with no skills—or why was he the only one who turned out this way? The lack of a contrast, or any connection with the other siblings, is a glaring flaw. If Gandhi is not to blame for Harilal’s doom (which is what the original play suggested) then why are we supposed to sympathise with the son?

Khan also has a stage-like approach to scenes, with obvious entries and exits. Oddly, whenever there is a dramatic scene going on between two characters, other people in the frame remain stony faced.

The constant coming close and moving away scene get repetitive after a while. Also Khan brings the outside in, which halts what is essentially a family drama. The frequent interruptions (the old newsreel style black and white footage is excellently recreated in Forrest Gump style) take away from the conflict, so that the tragedy of the black sheep son never reaches the operatic heights it ought to have, to be really moving.

Darshan Jariwala and Akshaye Khanna have roles to bite into, and they do well, but the women—Bhoomika Chawla and Shefali Shah really work wonders with their secondary parts.

Gandhi My Father is relatively superior cinema, but it also requires patient viewing—because the effort counts for something.


Dus was a fairy decent thriller, but with Cash, Anubhav Sinha overreaches to attempt a stylish Ocean’s 11 (12/13) kind of heist caper and fails.

He uses the odd device of one of the characters telling the story to a woman on a plane, and then uses a lot of animation, randomly, when it is not really required. A good caper should allow for suspension of disbelief, but not treat the audience as a mass of complete idiots.

Cash gets into a garbled explanation about a set of diamonds in South Africa, which a gangster Angad (Sunil Shetty) wants stolen for some other sleepy don called Uncle. His cohort Aditi (Dia Mirza) assigns the job to Doctor (Ajay Devgan), who gets squabbling thieves Danny (Zayed Khan) and Lucky (Ritesh Deshmukh) from Mumbai. Their back stories are told in boring detail.

Doctor lives with a Shanaya (Shamita Shetty), some kind of security chief, who makes a hair-brained scheme to reach the diamonds. But Doc and gang steal the stones and her money, and then get into trouble because the notes are marked. She doesn’t know that her dumb-looking bespectacled writer housemate is a criminal wanted by cops “in 15 countries.” Some security expert!

The plot, such as it is, forms an excuse to hang several stunt ‘items’ and a few needless dances— gangster’s pal Pooja (Esha Deol) is also seen in a cabaret number, just for the heck of it. All the songs (in Hindi even in South African nightclubs) are picturised like item numbers with a lot of scantily clad foreigners gyrating grimly.

Typical of Hindi films, that everybody carries guns, but in the climax, there is a lot of time-wasting fist-fighting. Don’t even start to count plot holes.

The actors seem to have been cast just for looking good in vests (the guys) and bra-tops (the girls) and they must have had a blast in South Africa, since all they have to do is strut in trendy clothes.


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