True Lies

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Any film whose title translates to “I Did Not Kill Gandhi,” would surely draw heckles for being sensational. Fortunately, there is much more at work in Assamese writer-director Barua’s first Hindi entry. Barua puts a brilliant spin on the chronicle of a retired college professor obsessed with denials that he was not responsible for Mahatma Gandhi’s death.

A widowed and recently retired Professor Chaudhury (Kher) is caught in the crosshairs of a turbulent inner storm. Increasingly absent-minded, to the point of reckless self-endangerment, Chaudhury is at the mercy of his mind that is on the verge of coming unhinged.

At the center of this Gandhi story is Kher’s powerful channeling of a sharp mind at the onset of either early dementia or Alzheimer’s. (Chaudhury’s ailment is intentionally left undiagnosed, possibly in deference to the Hollywood entry, A Simple Mind.) Kher (who produced), more famed for comedy than histrionics, makes Chaudhury’s slow downward spiral both convincing and heartfelt.

Chaudhury’s nightmarish existence sharply contrasts with the calm presence of his obedient daughter, Trisha, sensitively played by Matondkar. Trisha must reign in her own personal demons after being rejected by a suitor for being the daughter of a “mad man.” She is forced to confront a life-altering realization that she may suddenly become her father’s primary caregiver. Interestingly, in a family that has two able-bodied sons, it’s the daughter who is the pillar of emotional strength. One wonders why desi families are so fixated on producing a brood with XY chromosomes.

Yashraj’s high-quality DVD transfer readily brings Chaudhury’s life journey to the home theater. The DVD’s many freebies include interviews with the principals, promos and trailers, as well as highlights from the film’s star-studded Mumbai premier. Barua and Kher are ably supported by Bappi Lahiri’s highly restrained musical score (the former “King of B Movie Scores” actually limits himself to mostly just a melancholy piano) and Nitish Roy’s elevated cinematography that captures the turmoil within a middle-class Mumbai home.

Lately a number of Hindi films that borrow from the historical story of Mahatma Gandhi to create a parallel timeline have met with surprising success. Kamalahasan’s Hey Ram got on the heels of a fictional would-be assassin who trailed Gandhi until the very moment when Gandhi’s real murderer Nathuram Godse fired the lethal shot that was heard around the world. Even the Oscar-nominated Lagaan bankrolled an invisible Gandhian pathos buried just beneath the surface.

The fact that Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara was Black-ed out at the award soirees for 2005 takes away nothing from its power to mesmerize.

Aniruddh Chawda writes from Wisconsin, on America’s north coast.

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