Making a film like Gandhi My Father would never have been an easy task. With great intentions and honest commitment theater man Feroze Khan brings to life the story of Harilal Gandhi, the eldest son of Mahatma Gandhi. Harilal's only ambition in life is to be like his father- he wanted to study law in England but by the time Harilal joins his father in South Africa; Gandhi has started the transformation that would make him a Mahatma. The father realizes that there's more to life than just studying and leading a normal existence and ends up using his first born to experiment his ideals. The son tries to live up but the desire to be a normal human being takes consumes him and he just can't continue to survive being the Mahatma's son. The bow breaks when Gandhi chooses someone else over his son to enjoy the benefits of a law scholarship offered by a supporter. The son tries to run away by posing as someone else but is sent back. He confronts his father and from that point onwards Harilal who was being called 'Chota Gandhi' throws the baton that his father wanted him to hold.
The scene shifts to India, Harilal tries getting back to his studies but fails. He then tries to work but isn't satisfied; he tries his hand at business but ends up stealing his employer's money. All this while Gandhi keeps calling his son to join the freedom movement but Harilal refuses. Harilal's life becomes a series of misfortunate adventures but he doesn't realize that blaming his father isn't the answer. He cracks under the burden of the Gandhi name and decides to convert to Islam. But even then can't get a grip on life and finally ends up becoming a Hindu again. Harilal's mother tries to bridge the gap but Hari refuses to be a part of the family; his wife dies and his children end up growing up with the grandparents but Hari just digresses further. The film finally ends with Harilal trying to convince the hospital staff that the father of the nation is in fact his real father for no one wants to believe a sorry looking alcoholic bum.
Gandhi My Father seems very episodic and that’s perhaps the only thing that mars it. Needless to say the cast is impressive and everyone Akshaye Khanna (Harilal), Darshan Jariwala (Mahatma), Shefali Shah (Kasturba) and Bhoomika Chawla (Gulab Gandhi) is in top form but still the screenplay works like a stage play. It feels like a good idea has been stretched beyond expectations; the screenplay is almost like a pattern for one feels the same thing is being repeated. There are some great scenes that manage to choke you by the sheer intensity- Harilal and Gandhi’s confrontation, Harilal meeting his mother on the platform and Harilal’s conversion- but sadly the pattern is repeated very often in the film. The editing is very strange and makes use of fades so much that one can't help but feel that it's a cover-up operation.
The fact that very little is known about Harilal poses as a problem for the scriptwriter but also frees them considerably to explore and that I think could have been handled better. Besides great acting, especially Akshaye Khanna, the costumes and the production design are impeccable and more than enough reasons to enjoy Gandhi My Father . I never got an opportunity to see the play on which this film is based but after watching the film I can safely say the play must have been really good.
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