Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

'India has a love hate relationship with Gandhi': 'The Gandhi Murder' filmmakers talk to us as movie's release in India cancelled

Threats and controversy mean the filmmakers themselves have pulled the plug on the India release

If mankind can learn from history – albeit a history that gets muddled with the passing of time, that is reason enough to watch The Gandhi Murder, a Dubai-produced movie that promises to tell the untold story Mahatma Gandhi’s death in 1948. Co-director Pankaj Sehgal asserts that the “intellectual film” will focus only on the last days of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, leading up to his assassination on January 30, 1948.

He says the film will hone in on lesser known facts about the man the world knows as Mahatma.

The film is set for UAE release on the anniversary of Gandhi's death, Wednesday January 30, and its makers claim it will reveal information that people should know, 71 years on from the day that Hindu fanatic Nathuram Godse shot three bullets into Gandhi's chest.

You want to release strong content based on true events, and suddenly unchartered calls and threats follow

Filmed partly in Dubai, but mostly in Sri Lanka, the movie's cast includes Stephen Lang (Avatar), Vinnie Jones (Snatch), Luke Pasqualino (Snowpiercer) and the late Om Puri (East is East). The film was earlier known as Solar Eclipse: Depth of Darkness and Gandhi: The Conspiracy before settling for its current title.

"Not many know that days before Gandhi's murder, there was another attempt, which was foiled," Sehgal tells The National. "This film looks at how the police could have prevented it."

Not-so hidden facts

Sehgal is prepared to face blowback after the movie’s release, as the film takes on many controversial issues, but he believes that many are still in the dark about what happened, which may be extra true for many millennials. In the aftermath of Gandhi's assassination, there were many loose ends, and the holes in the story have, for years, given birth to questions and conspiracy theories.

One question that stands out is the confusion surrounding the investigation into the case of Madan Lal Pahwa, who attempted to kill Gandhi 10 days before Godse was successful. Sehgal confirms that The Gandhi Murder looks into Pahwa’s role. His trail was picked up by the British, and it is said that an intelligence report was shared with Gandhi and Congress, who were still focused on building the nation, months after India's independence.

'Gandhi's death was good for India'?

There has been a spurt of movies – both biopics and period dramas – that pander to nationalism in Bollywood. Though this is a Hollywood film, as Sehgal quickly points out, the fact remains that Gandhi's killing was the first flashpoint between Congress and the Hindu right wing, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

"The last film on Gandhi was way back by Richard Attenborough (the 1982 film Gandhi, played by Ben Kingsley). We never got permissions to shoot in India, that's why we had to go to Sri Lanka. The fact is India has a love-hate relationship with Gandhi.

"Our film took 13 months just to get the Indian censor board's certification... we insisted our film is about facts and nothing else. We had to submit documented evidence on each of 27 counts before Justice Manmohan Sarin [the head of the film certification tribunal]. Otherwise our film would have released much, much earlier. In hindsight, we would have liked to release it on October 2," says Sehgal. That is when Gandhi, and Sehgal, were born.

"In fact, our writers believe that Gandhi's death was good for the country, otherwise India would have broken into many parts based on religion."

Why the production company cancelled the release

Even before the release of the movie, the challenges in shooting, and the 13 month delay prove that a nerve has been struck by the film. In the days leading up to its worldwide release, it has been revealed that a female co-producer has been forced to change her address twice in six months, while Sehgal has received threats too. Another crew member has been physically accosted.

This has all lead to the production company calling off the India release, despite the work to certify the film and dub it into different Indian languages. Meanwhile, the worldwide release is on track, including even in Pakistan.

Dr Moobi Alwright, Sehgal's colleague at Nugen Media, says from Dubai: "It is a question of standing up to a ghost warfare, where you don’t really know who your enemy is, and what kind of threat it is. You want to release strong content based on true events, and suddenly unchartered calls and threats follow.”

A movie that got it very wrong

The 2017 British film Viceroy House looked at India's partition with Pakistan from a different angle, as a romance set amid the unfolding political and historical events, with a bird's eye view from Lord Louis Mountbatten's office-residence. The film turned out to be a gross distortion in Sehgal's eyes.

Sehgal says: "That was complete fiction. We are based on hard facts, but yes, there is a little romantic angle towards the end." Viceroy House has since claimed its research was based on a little-known book authored by a then junior staffer.

Updated: January 29, 2019 01:48 PM