Father to the nation, but not to his own son. Great theme. Huge historic resonances as the father and son happen to be Mahatma Gandhi and his little-known son Harilal. What interesting possibilities of drama open up before our eyes as we think of the father and son locked in a mutual admonition society against the backdrop of a demanding politically anguished nation.
Gandhi My Father fails to convey the jumbo-sized canvas of the fight that the Father Of The Nation fought within and outside his home. One reason for this inadequacy is the director Feroz Abbas Khan’s own creative battle. Simply put, you can take the play out of the playwright. But you can’t make him put the staginess of the drama behind him when he takes the intimate drama to the screen. We’ve seen this happen earlier with stage directors who turn to the large screen. Bob Fosse brought the Broadway musical to Hollywood. But in his films the element of choreographed creativity remained predominant.
For Feroz Abbas Khan the sword of staginess hangs on his film debut in glistening glory, imbuing the on-screen story with an intimacy that brings the characters too close to the audience for comfort.
Though there isn’t enough ‘cinema’ in this stage adaptation the sincerity and integrity of the entire crew bolsters the production and carries it smoothly to the finishing line. The cinematography (David MacDonald), production design (Nitin Desai), editing (Sreekar Prasad) and costumes (Sujata Sharma) are designed to take the product beyond the boundary of a specific excellence. They deliver. What brings the drama and the dormant energy within the characters to a boiling point without brimming over are the performances. Darshan Jariwala is poignant and body-perfect in bringing the Mahatma to life. How does he compare with other celluloid Gandhis? That’s as silly as asking how Attenborough’s Gandhi compares with Kamal Haasan’s Hey Ram.
Gandhi My Father moves at its mellowed-down volition, often at the expense of the drama. The father-son conflict could and perhaps should have been far more intense and dramatic. The controlled drama is perfectly modulated by Akshaye Khanna who as Harilal is the portrait of filial angst, more sinned against than sin, more stranger to his father than a son, more wanting to be loved than loved. Khanna gets rid of some of his dramatic props(clenched jaw, etc) to sink into character. As for Shefali Shah as Kasturba , she makes the wispy sepia-toned world of home and politics come together in a sweep of maternal affections. Her warm and sensitive performance furnishes this rather-dry film with the milk of human kindness. The quality of human kindness remains largely untapped in the narration. …What Gandhi My Father needed was a tight jadoo ki jhappi (as that wacky Gandhian Munnabhai calls it). Gandhi My Father holds back the tears and fears of a son who wants to be hugged by his father who’s busy embracing the nation. The restrain is remarkable for going against the requirements of the story. But it isn’t a merit in a movie that needed all its emotional components to move in the same direction as its underlining inter-relationships.