On 30 January 1948, Mahatma Gandhi’s murder at the hands of Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse sent shockwaves through the still nascent democracy of India. Reimagining an alternative reality where Gandhi survives the attack, Rajkumar Santoshi’s latest film purports to offer an unbiased debate of the conflicting ideologies between the non-violence advocate and his killer. Such a premise is already attracting its share of controversy: with the rise of Hindutva-inspired violence, many fear that the film is yet another attempt to reclaim Godse’s image as a patriot.
Despite being surrounded by such fervent discourse, Gandhi Godse Ek Yudh is, at the end of the day, a mediocre effort. Deepak Antani’s Gandhi and Chinmay Mandlekar’s Godse do share a startling resemblance with the real historical figures, but their characterisation in this fanciful piece of fiction lacks any real conviction. While the film does challenge Godse’s Islamophobia and raise questions about Gandhi’s celibacy, it also flattens their contrasting political positions into a mere difference of temperament that could be solved through dialogue. To suggest that, after spending time together in a jail cell, Godse would go as far as saving Gandhi from another assassination attempt ludicrously undermines the frightening persistence of the ideology at stake. The naive belief that violence is a part of human nature – which can easily be reformed – also ignores how oppression operates on a systematic level.
Stylistically, the historical setting is unimaginatively portrayed through the lazy use of brown-yellow colour grading and rudimentary graphics of retro-style newspaper headlines. The inability to resist random flourishes such as slow motion also undermines whatever gravitas that the film tries to possess. In the end, Gandhi Godse Ek Yudh says very little about the past – and even less about the problems of modern-day India.
• Gandhi-Godse Ek Yudh (War of Ideologies) is released on 26 January in cinemas.