Today is Shaheed Divas, the day of sacrifice of our beloved Baapu and the Father of the Nation of India, i.e., Mahatma Gandhi. On this occasion, I am reviewing a 16 years old movie which I had watched on the very first day (though not in the very first show) in Mumbai (I was posted at Tarapur Atomic Power Station those days and was on a week long official tour to Mumbai when this movie was released). This movie dedicated to the sacrifice of Gandhiji as well as his life-values is Hey Ram (2000).
Hey Ram was released on 18.02.2000 but its theme is as relevant today as it was on that day and even decades back from that day. Made by one of the most talented as well as the most dedicated cine-artists of India – Kamal Haasan, this movie takes on the misunderstandings spread in certain sections of the society regarding the great man for whom Albert Einstein had asserted – “Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.” He was a man who firmly believed – Truth is God (Satya Hee Eeshwar Hai) and who always loved singing – ‘Eeshwar Allah Tero Naam, Sabko Sanmati De Bhagwaan‘ (Eeshwar and Allah are thy names O God, please bestow sanity upon all). But he was grossly misunderstood in the final years of his life (grossly misunderstood by several ones even today) and that misunderstanding about him only led to his killing exactly six and a half decades ago, i.e., on 30.01.1948 and he fell down after getting shot by a pistol (by Naathu Ram Godse) asserting his final words – ‘Hey Raam !’Producer-cum-writer-cum-director-cum-hero of this movie – Kamal Haasan imagined that during that period of the late forties (in which the story has been set), there were many people who misunderstood Gandhiji and considered him only as responsible for the partition of the nation as well as the plight of the Hindus in the hands of the Muslim rioters. One such person was Naathu Ram Godse who succeeded in murdering him and another such person (as per the imagination of the filmmaker) was Saaket Ram who wanted to murder him but before he could do that, this act got executed by Naathu Ram Godse.
The story goes like this – Saaket Ram (Kamal Haasan) is a well-educated Tamilian Brahmin who works in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and has married a Bengali girl – Aparna (Rani Mukherji). After the ‘Direct Action’ call of Mohammed Ali Zinnah on 16.08.1946 and around the partition of the nation on 15.08.1947, the Muslim majority areas of Punjab and Bengal are taken to ransom by the rioters who go on rampage – looting, raping and killing the hapless Hindus who are in less numbers in their areas, getting full support from the biased administration and the police. And our hero – Saaket Ram becomes a victim of these unfortunate times when his Muslim servant (Shaadab Khan) betrays him and ushers the rioters to his house. The rioters rape and kill Aparna and are about to kill Saaket Ram too when he (in these most difficult moments of his life) uses his wit to fool the rioters and save his life first, only to seek revenge from the perpetrators of that heinous crime afterwards.
The burden of grief and the fire of vengeance overpowers the wisdom of Saaket Ram who has hitherto been truly a humanist only and he starts roaming about the streets killing the Muslims but the human in him is still alive and he is deeply moved by seeing a little girl who has been orphaned by someone like him only. However he comes across a hardcore Hindu fanatic – Shriram Abhyankar (Atul Kulkarni) who further not only fuels the destroying fire in Saaket Ram but also makes him believe that this plight of the Hindus is due to the wrong policies and practices of Gandhiji who should be killed. And Abhyankar only brings him to certain people thinking on the same lines the most prominent of whom is a ruler of a princely state (Vikram Gokhle).
Meantime, Saaket Ram has remarried. His new bride is a Tamil girl – Mythili Iyengar (Vasundhara Das). However neither Saaket Ram has forgotten the heart-piercing dishonour and killing of his first wife, i.e., Aparna; nor has he abandoned his decision to kill Gandhiji. He reaches Delhi to murder Gandhiji. Ironically his stay takes place at the residence of his old Muslim friend – Amjad Ali Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) who lives with his wife – Nafeesa (Iravati Harshe) and two kids. Just one day before the D Day (for Gandhiji’s murder), a riot breaks out in the locality and Amjad dies in the crossfire, saving the life of his friend, i.e., Saaket Ram. Saaket Ram who has never been a fanatic in his life prior to unfortunate happenings to him, is now in a fix whether whatever he’s going to do is correct or not. He approaches the spot where Gandhiji is heading for a prayer meeting but before he could decide in favour or against of killing him, Naathu Ram Godse shoots the great man from a point blank range and he dies uttering – ‘Hey Raam’ leaving Saaket Ram behind to repent for the rest of his life and go for penitence.
The whole narrative moves in flash back when the story of Saaket Ram is narrated by his grandson to the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi – Tushaar Gandhi (who has played his role himself) when a very old Saaket Ram is counting his last breaths. The movie ends with the death of Saaket Ram, providing a lot of food for thought to those who takes interest in the Gandhian philosophy and the Indian history and also to those who are happy just by cursing Gandhiji.
Kamal Haasan has undertaken many responsibilities in this movie and as a producer-director he has made a gigantic effort in bringing that period alive on the screen. His imagination has been ably supported by the art director and the cinematographer and while watching the movie on the big screen, I got a feeling of passing through that turbulent era. A great effort indeed ! But !
Something is deeply missing here. And it’s the soul of the story. Kamal Haasan’s narcissistic attitude and self-indulgence have been responsible for the marring of this movie. He has kept himself in almost every frame and overpowered all the other characters, not allowing anybody (with the sole exception of Atul Kulkarni) to emerge before him. And this has skewed the movie in the negative direction. This is a movie made with a pious intention but it would have been much better had Kamal Haasan assigned the responsibility of directing it to some other capable director.
It is shown that the tragedy happened with Aparna hardly affected the personal life of Saaket Ram and he enjoyed his life like anything by marrying another pretty girl which is not in line with the spirit of the movie. There are unnecessary kissing and lovemaking scenes (between the hero and his two wives) too which this extra-ordinary filmmaker could have easily avoided but perhaps he kept the box office also in sight. The movie is exceedingly long (3 hours and 20 minutes) and exclusion of superfluous sequences would have made better sense on the part of the filmmaker.
The music composed by Illayaraja does not boast of any chartbusters but it is good all the same and the lyrics are also impressive. The background score is perfect. Interestingly, this is the first Indian movie to feature a soundtrack performed by a full fledged symphony orchestra (by Laslo Kovaks of Budapest Symphonic Orchestra, Hungary).
Since Kamal Haasan himself has prevailed in the complete movie, he had to do well in the lead role and he has done it. All others (including the actors of the calibre of Hema Malini, Girish Karnaad and Shah Rukh Khan) have not been given any scope by him. However Atul Kulkarni has left impact in this debut movie of his and he won the national award for the Best Supporting Actor for his role.
Made in both Tamil and Hindi, Hey Ram is a technically very superior movie and it was India’s entry to the Oscars for the year 2000. However I wish that Kamal Haasan had restricted himself a bit and allowed this movie to become a masterpiece which it truly deserves to be.
Finally, while paying my tribute to the Father of the Nation and the beloved Baapu of millions, I firmly assert that it is easy to curse anybody without going deep into his life and thoughts but it is very difficult to understand a person of the stature of Gandhiji without turning your own personality to something similar to his. He was responsible neither for the partition of India nor for the plight of the riot-hit Hindus. In fact, it’s him only who did not attend any celebrations on 15.08.1947 and moved afoot and sans any security to riot-hit Noakhali in order to wipe the tears of the wailing humanity. His ideals of truth, non-violence and humanity are still relevant and will continue to be relevant in the times to come. These are the eternal life values which he sincerely followed and no change of era can render them outdated. With this, I recommend this movie to all those who like serious and meaningful cinema.
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