What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet
William Shakespeare may have famously once said/written this no doubt, but ever wondered what our lives would be if we were suddenly stripped of our identity? How would it feel to wake up one day only to be told that your existence is nothing but a lie, probably just a figment of one’s imagination? That the name by which you have always responded to isn’t yours anymore? Sounds ridiculous or funny right? Well yes why not, after all why on earth would something like this happen? So let’s make it a lot simpler, what if you were known for some deed of yours in the past, only to be told one fine day that no such thing happened and that you are probably lying? Possible, quite possible and irrespective of whether you feel the same or not, I am sure Ananth Narayan Mahadevan’s latest film, Gour Hari Dastaan will make you ponder on the same.
Actor-writer-director Ananth Mahadevan is someone who has been comfortable wearing multiple hats for a long time. Recently appreciated for his poignant portrayal in the Tamil film Papanasam, his last film as a director was The Xpose (2014). For someone who started off making commercial Hindi films like Dil Vil Pyar Vyar (2002), Dil Maange More!!! (2004), Aksar (2006) etc Ananth now has come a long way as a filmmaker and now I see a film like The Xpose as an exception. If I had any doubts on his capability as a director then I must say that with films like Red Alert (2010) and Mee Sindhutai Sapkal (2010) he certainly proved that he could make serious films based on tales that are more than relevant to us in today’s times. And now after having delivered a box office hit with The Xpose (critically panned though), he is back with a film that has its heart in the right place, Gour Hari Dastaan which releases in theatres today.
Written jointly by Ananth Mahadevan and former journalist turned writer C.P.Surendran, Gour Hari Dastaan chronicles the struggle of Gour Hari Das,a freedom fighter who even went to jail for 3 months in Balasore, Orissa in his childhood as he had to fight patiently and diligently for 32 years before the Government finally recognised him officially as a freedom fighter. Based on the true story of freedom fighter Gour Hari Das, the film has probably stuck closely to the original tale as seen by the whole hearted endorsement of the film by Gour Hari Das. Soon after the freedom struggle and India’s independence Gour Hari Das (Vinay Pathak) shifts to Mumbai along with his family. He is a Government employee, working in the Khadi Commission and leading a contented life with his wife Lakshmi (Konkona Sen Sharma) and his son. Things take a different turn when his son is unable to secure a college admission of his choice for the lack of a freedom fighter’s certificate.
While his son manages to overcome his dejection and shifts to the U.S eventually, Gour Hari Das is hurt and decides to wage a lone battle to prove the authenticity of his claim, something that his son, colleagues and neighbours make fun of. In the process the journey takes a toll on his professional and personal life, but he moves on as any totally determined soul would. People keep on questioning him, his belief and the veracity of his claim, but he continues his struggle undeterred, in a way his fight for freedom continues as never before. The film in non-linear fashion moves across 3 different eras, the 1940’s where we see Gour Hari Das as a patriotic child; the 1970’s where he actually begins his struggle to prove his identity as freedom fighter and the years 2002-07 where his fight finally seems to be yielding results, finally getting some people to support him as well.
Gour Hari Das comes across as someone who is determined in his quest, but definitely not someone doing it to stay in the limelight. It could have been easy for Ananth Mahadevan and C.P.Surendran to incorporate scenes/moments where the protagonist is shown exhibiting his heroics, but nothing of that sort happens. Gour Hari Das instead is shown as a calm and composed individual, soft spoken and he isn’t someone who goes about trying to philosophise as many people of his age and background would probably be expected to. Yes he is happy to tell people, including kids of his neighbourhood about his tales of freedom struggle, but more in a story telling mode and never in a manner that looks down upon people far younger to him. He is also a man of principles, when a fixer/tout (Siddharth Jadhav) approaches him outside Mantralaya (Maharashtra State Government Headquarters), suggesting that he would get the work done for a commission, Gour Hari Das flatly refuses, as that is not the way he wants to gain his recognition.
The film is filled with some wonderful moments, one of my favourite scenes in the film is when journalists Rajiv Singhal (Ranvir Shorey) and Anita (Tannishtha Chatterjee) are meeting Gour Hari Das in a Irani Café when Gour excuses himself in between only to go and call upon his wife. This is also the scene where Rajiv and Anita are trying to judge the credibility of Gour’s claim, but the dialogues are so simple and slice of life that it leaves a strong impact. When Gour Hari Das is talking to the Special Secretary of the Freedom Cell (Saurabh Shukla), he is dismayed to find that the official doesn’t really know where Orissa is, a fact highlighted by even the map of India in the room alluding to it in a way, again a scene where the actions speak loud with very minimal dialogues. There is fantastic camaraderie between Gour Hari Das and Rajiv Singhal, the latter going on to look upon the former as his role model of sorts as well. But again save for a solitary moment when Rajiv admits to the same in a drunken stupor, this is mostly left understated and is not loud and in the face.
On the technical front the film boasts of some really big names, all of them justifying their presence in the film comfortably. DOP Alphonse Roy has shot on film, a rarity these days, but it helps in giving the right feel for the 3 different time zones, without resorting to any gimmicks. With a run time of 111 minutes, the film has the right run time for the tale, A.Sreekar Prasad’s editing is remarkable as always, the film slips in and out of the 3 time zones comfortably and the pacing is effective. Dr.L.Subramaniam’s BGM is first rate, the classical touch working wonderfully for a tale like this. And yes do look out for ‘Vaishnavo Janato’ which appears at the end of the film, now what can I say for this version of the classic bhajan which is rendered by Pandit Jasraj and Kavita Krishnamurthy apart from just saying that it gives you a high for sure.
The film also boasts of a stellar supporting cast, lot of them appearing in cameos including Saurabh Shukla, Murli Sharma, Asrani, Vikram Gokhale, Viju Khote, Achint Kaur etc. Vipin Sharma as Ahirkar, the neighbour of Gour Hari Das is quite good as the wily guy who wants to take over from Gour as the secretary of their association. Both Konkona and Tannishtha are effective, supporting the men in their lives admirably. Ranvir Shorey as Rajiv Singhal is an interesting character, his marriage to his feminist wife has crumbled and he himself comes across as a misogynist of sorts. Even at his office he doesn’t really have a great equation with everyone. But the film thankfully doesn’t dwell too much on his problems and retains the focus on the struggle of Gour Hari Das and rightly so. Vinay Pathak is amazing as Gour Hari Das, lending the character and the film a dignified presence.
Ultimately you know how the film is going to pan out, but Ananth Mahadevan has made sure that the effort comes across as sincere and honest. It isn’t a film that may go about pleasing just about everyone, but for those who are willing to learn about the long determined struggle of a man’s identity this is a film that would leave you satisfied. The film in a way also tells us in many ways how some things haven’t really helped the Country despite the independence gained in 1947, making us question the whole aspect of freedom as well. In many ways the story of Gour Hari Das is very relevant to us today, considering the times we live in.