FRIDAY REVIEW

A matter of heart and ideology

RANA SIDDIQUI

A DATE WITH LIFE Anupam Kher owes his meeting with honesty to `Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara.' PHOTO: K. Gopinathan

A DATE WITH LIFE Anupam Kher owes his meeting with honesty to `Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara.' PHOTO: K. Gopinathan  

`Maine Gandhi ko nahin mara. Maine unka vadh kiya hai,' is what Nathuram Godse said in his trial before the lower court for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. He was hanged on November 15, 1949, at the Central Jail in Ambala.

Tell this to Anupam Kher, who is playing the protagonist in the Jahnu Baruah directed Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara, and he reacts with a rehearsed curiosity and surprise, "Really? I didn't know this," and looks straight into your eyes, trying to find out if you believe him.

And once he is sure you don't judge him as an ignoramus, he gives in. "This film has nothing to do with Gandhiji or Godse. But yes, the protagonist in it is a Gandhian. It is about a patient of Alzheimer's, the condition of old people in today's society, the father-daughter relationship and why a Gandhi is needed in today's society. Though when I saw the film after it was completed, Jahnu asked me, `Won't it sound like a gimmick?' to which I said, absolutely not," states the actor who made his debut in Hindi films with Mahesh Bhatt's Saraansh in 1984, which not only fetched him the Filmfare award for the Best Actor but also critical acclaim.

Based on a real-life character known to Baruah, Maine... is the story of Professor Choudhary, who teaches Hindi. "When he gets Alzheimer's disease, he initially starts forgetting things, but in the later stages, the line between his imagination and reality diminishes, so much so that this man of Gandhian philosophy who lives in a society that has stopped believing in Gandhian values, starts considering himself to be a part of that society. That makes him believe he has killed Gandhi and hence, he keeps saying he hasn't killed Gandhi," relates Kher.

Actress Urmila Matondkar plays the caring daughter. Anupam laments that today children have almost forgotten Gandhi.

This one-hour-18-minute film that hits the screens today, brought the actor and the human being in Kher closer 20 years after Saraansh. "I met honesty in this film. It has brought me closer to myself. I was shocked by the subject when Jahnu narrated it to me. Earlier, NFDC was to produce this film but I was so impressed with its screenplay that I decided to produce it. It is straight from the heart. I am already rewarded by working in it," adds Kher.

So, it's the creativity and a closer-to-life approach that the film deals with. It's an original idea and Kher believes that it is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation. "Every film that has something that you can identify with is, I believe, a successful film. And it has done its duty well if it has made you realise your follies. This film made me realise how much we take our parents for granted. They are like a piece of furniture at home. As they grow old, we start avoiding them. I tend to do it with my father also. And see, how patient they grow. They stop minding your behaviour. Tell me, when did you last look straight into your parents' eyes and have a heart-to-heart talk with them?"

Such a reality-check stirs you. And the reason to make this film at this time is to give the same reality-check to the audience, especially in bigger cities. And that's what brings him to criticise the electronic media and its `breaking news' concept. "Why is the `breaking news' always a rape, theft, disaster or dowry? Why when someone donates Rs. 5 lakhs to the needy is it not breaking news? Why not sensitise people with the breaking news of human and cultural values?"

And why, you may ask, when he was awarded the responsible chair of the Censor Board, did he not do his bit to "bring new laws and update older ones" as he declared when he adorned the chair, to curb vulgar remix albums on television that were as dehumanising? "I did try my bit. They didn't cooperate. It's useless to discuss it now. I still want to do it... " he parries the question, discomfort clearly clouding his face. "I am still hopeful. I have never given up in life. I have built a castle from the stones thrown at me," he tries to make up.

Speaking of the Censor Board, the title of this film is learnt to have created a furore in the Board. "They got apprehensive, called historians, educationists and old timers. After seeing the film, they congratulated me and said, `You have honoured us by making this film'. And it was cleared without a single cut and granted a `U' certificate," Kher beams with pride. He also claims that not only will the film challenge one's intelligence but also make one feel pained for not contributing to society and family.

"During Saaransh, I was a struggler; hungry for work, money and shelter. I wouldn't have understood the intensity behind this project. I would have done it as a job," he admits.

A visit to the Alzheimer's patients' conference as a chief guest, meetings with old people abandoned from homes because of the disease, some self-realisation and Kher seems a changed man. He is seen addressing a bearer at the hotel as beta and politely telling him that the soup was "very bad". And next, Kher will be seen in Khosla Ka Ghosla, Janeman and a Sooraj Barjatya film.

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