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Flawed and disconnected

Flawed and disconnected

Randeep Hooda as VD Savarkar.

Film: Swatantra Veer Savarkar

Director: Randeep Hooda

Cast: Randeep Hooda, Ankita Lokhande, Apinderdeep Singh, Amit Sial, Mark Bennington

Johnson Thomas

The biopic on Vinayak Damodar Savarkar tries really hard to enhance his image as a freedom fighter beyond what is known as fact. The film opens with the claim that research was the mainstay of this effort, but fails to point out that it was interpreted (liberally creative at that) in such a way as to make Savarkar look more credible. There’s also this stated intent of manufacturing dissent regarding the popular narrative that freedom was obtained through non-violent means.

This version of history is not about the non-violent struggle that drove away the British. It is a peculiar interpretation of isolated violent events perpetrated by individuals deemed as martyrs in the periphery of the struggle — all conveniently linked to Savarkar by a narrative that fails to corroborate or make those claims justifiable.

The film shows Savarkar taking the lead from Lokmanya Tilak in the burning of foreign items (Swadeshi movement), claiming to ‘be Indian and buy Indian’, while in the same breath wanting to go to London for further studies in law. There’s another scene where Mahatma Gandhi introduces Savarkar as a speaker at a function abroad and the stress here is on making Gandhi seem like a lesser individual. The manner in which he is presented coincides with the disdain that Savarkar held for Gandhi’s role in South Africa.

Then there’s this concerted attempt to show Savarkar as being of primary concern to the British Intelligence. He even has a dedicated agent following up on his actions in India and London.

Words like ‘Akhand Bharat,’ ‘Abhinav Bharat’, ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ are bandied about in an attempt to echo Savarkar’s political leanings. The scripting by Randeep Hooda and Utkarsh Naithani fails to do justice to the character play. It would have been better to have Savarkar’s views and actions embedded within the broader aspect of the non-violent freedom struggle proposed by Gandhi and taken forward by the Indian National Congress and the masses. But, instead, what we get is a conspired script connecting far-off dots just so as to validate Savarkar as a noted freedom fighter.

Piecemeal accumulation of isolated events right from the 1857 mutiny and the bubonic plague onwards are woven together in an inorganic spiel that fails to be coherent or plausible. That Savarkar developed the Hindu nationalist political ideology of Hindutva and was a leading figure of the Hindu Mahasabha is beyond doubt. The rest is half-fiction and half-truths. There’s a strong anti-Islamic sentiment permeating this creativity.

The camerawork is shifty and deliberately unfocused as it attempts to create an image that is larger than life without any substantive scriptural support. The plotting is largely disharmonious. The narrative is as conflicted as Savarkar is portrayed to be.

Underpinning the violent aspects of the freedom struggle are intimate details of Savarkar’s personal odyssey. But there’s no real depth in the screenplay.

The main problem with the film is that it tries to portray Gandhi and Savarkar as equals in the freedom struggle when we all very well know it wasn’t the case.

This film is a deeply flawed work. The best thing though are the performances, the art direction and the cinematography. Savarkar’s incarceration takes up a major portion of the second half, leaving the audience with little to dwell on other than, hopefully, empathise with the prisoner’s struggle. The cinematography manages to give a lived-in experience of Savarkar’s stint in the cell in ‘Kala Pani’.

The film is neither profound nor engaging. What it offers the viewer is a pointedly diverse take on the freedom struggle, using peripheral vision. In its efforts to venerate Savarkar, the film tends to negate the legacy of much more key figures, and their contributions to India’s fight for self-determination.