Gour Hari Dastaan: The Freedom File is a very solemn, very onerous, very sanctimonious harangue about many, many things. All things, in fact.
But at its core it’s a film about director Anant Mahadevan and writer C.P. Surendran (a senior journalist) desperately wanting to burnish and shove their credentials as people with a conscience, as people who care and worry about important things in our faces. They both use the film and its story to tell us about how pious they are because they really feeeeeeeel the plight of the common man, and they do it all through in an agonisingly self-righteous way.
While their overbearing moralising and finger-wagging ruins a perfectly touching story, an interesting thing happens, inadvertently.
While introducing characters and tangents that have nothing to do with the man whose alleged biopic they’ve made — they are just random clouds bursting with their glumness — they trip on their own conceit and reveal themselves as thorough-bred chauvinists. Their misogyny is plastered like a screaming banner on several scenes that made me want to attempt projectile vomiting on the screen at least five times.
Based on the true story of Gour Hari Das, a living swatantrata sainani, the film tells the story of his struggle of over three decades, 32 years actually, to get the government to recognise him as a freedom fighter and issue a Tamrapatra to him.
Gour Hari Das (Vinay Pathak) lives in Mumbai with his wife, Lakshmi (Konkona Sen Sharma). Everyday he types out letters, petitions, and makes the rounds of various officers to push his case for a Tamrapatra.
The film begins when Das has been at it for 27 years. As the film follows him from one office to another, to request one officer and then another, we get flashbacks to the old days — to the events of the freedom struggle, Das’ involvement in it — and why and when he set out to pursue the Tamrapatra. 1976. That was the year when Das, a Khadi Commission employee, had to listen to his son berate him. His son had been denied college admission on quota for freedom fighters. The college had rejected the jailor’s certificate issued to Das, demanding instead a government-issued Tamrapatra, attesting his freedom fighter identity.
The son, mean and selfish, doubted his father’s claim of being a freedom fighter, and that set Das on this pursuit for a certificate to prove his identity.
The film doesn’t stay with Das throughout. It often sidesteps the main story to treat us to tripe.
Rajiv (Ranvir Shorey), a reporter with a Mumbai-based tabloid, is introduced to us by the paper’s editor, with air quotes, as a “journalist with a purpose”. We are also told that he is an alcoholic who hates feminists — the one in his house, the ones in his office, and the ones who may generally hang around in the world, at large. This point is made by him and the film repeatedly, apropos nothing.
But Rajiv is also the guy who will not only write the story of this man’s heart-rending journey, but also pursue, with Das, the Tamrapatra, even if that means travelling to Balasore jail in Orissa, with his colleague and girlfriend (played by Tannishtha Chatterjee).
The film is singularly devoted to the reporter, giving him many occasions to say, “Feminists ko goli mar do… Feminist! Huh!”, while ignoring the woman reporter who pursues Das’ story with him. Chauvinism, did you say?
Gour Hari Dastaan has been written and directed by two holier-than-thou men who didn’t bother to research their character in any depth. But, it’s not just based on research that’s incredibly superficial and lazy. It also has a screenplay that’s supremely self-satisfied. So, instead of making Das into a living, breathing character, they turn him into a pursed-lip emblem of their own smug self-righteousness.
The film flails about, chasing this and that, obsessed at one minute about a man’s naïve belief that the sarkar is actually working for him, only to focus on dull housing society politics the next; it’s about a father-son, or perhaps the bureaucratic labyrinth that is India; it tries to tell the story of the small fry of the freedom struggle who has been forgotten, only to be distracted by feminists and a feminist-abusing man. It gets pulled in various directions, all the time telling us the same thing, “Director ka dard feel karo.”
In between all this there are random scenes and banal dialogue that pretend to have meaning, but really don’t.
The dishonesty and fakery in the writing and direction of the film — each character has been written and cast with an ascending earnestness rating — does a great disservice not only to Gour Hari Das, but also poor Vinay Pathak who tries to act according to the way his character has been written, and does a commendable job. The film’s few moving moments are all thanks to him. They are, of course, ruined almost immediately with some supremely pretentious crap.
But then, Anant Mahadevan is a repeat offender. He picks up an interesting topic and then proceeds to ruin it. Always.
The film’s last two minutes or so — stills of the real Gour Hari Das accompanied with some text — were more compelling than Mahadevan’s 110 sulking minutes before that.
The film ends with a quote from Gandhi: “If I had no sense of humour, I would long ago have committed suicide.” Anant Mahadevan has no sense of humour.