March 20, 2020
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Vir Savarkar

Vir Savarkar
Vir Savarkar
Starring: Shailendra Gaur, Tom Alter, Surendra Rajan
Director: Ved Rahi
Rating: ***

The best thing that can be said after the media preview as I leave the colonial environs of the auditorium at the National Film Archives, Pune, where you have to take your shoes off in deference to every function, is that this is a watchable feature film, especially the engrossing second half. Not a documentary. Ved Rahi, who states that he got inspiration from the Attenborough version of Gandhi, as director and scriptwriter of Vir Savarkar, brings on the big-screen the lifetime of an outspoken writer and social reformer with scientific temper, worshipped by many as a revolutionary more concerned with life on this earth and reviled by many others as a religious bigot, fundamentalist and even a fanatic.

Technically middle-of-the-road but with excellent effort taken for authenticity on a low budget including sourcing an old steam-ship in the Alang breaker's yards. The closest one can get on giving it a style would be the tamasha style so popular on the West Coast. Shot extensively on actual historical locations in the Andamans, interior Mahrashtra, Pune, Mumbai and the UK, the overhead shots in the Kaal Kothri at the Cellular Jail are worth analysing, especially if you have been there. The feature itself works through four quadrants in his life: the young Savarkar (Shailendra Gaur, from Alkazi's Living Theatre) as a scholarship law student in the UK with a cameo involving Madan Lal Dhingra, the Curzon shootout and the subsequent hanging at Pentonville Prison. Next, a physically debilating stint in the Andamans, where Tom Alter hams through the role of jailor Barry with great aplomb. Third in Ratnagiri, where he was initially jailed and then under house arrest. Finally, closer to independence, all over the country, including some very crucially important exchanges with Mahatma Gandhi (Surendra Rajan) and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Gaur carries the various stages in Savarkar's life with authenticity.

The censors did chop off some of the more controversial exchanges, which Rahi asserts he researched from a variety of authentic sources—between Savarkar and Gandhi on the subject of Pakistan, as well as Savarkar's meetings with the Khilafat leaders. It is difficult to make a movie about the life of a person, spanning a period in the time of two world wars and great political and technological changes. But the film does raise some very disturbing questions in its attempts to bring out fresh truths in history on the question of the very basis of our existence today, the freedom struggle. Vir Savarkar makes a case that Indian nationalism was not really served very well by Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress. The movie does touch on, in passing, the influence that Bal Gangadhar Tilak had on Jinnah, Gokhale and Savarkar during the pre-Gandhian era.

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