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Swatantrya Veer Savarkar Review: Glorification of the Controversial Politician

Actor-Director Randeep Hooda's portrayal of Savarkar subverts the cinematic experience into a rhetorical overkill.

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"Verbosity is the enemy of a good script." If only Randeep Hooda had made sense of this adage, he could have saved his film – Swatantrya Veer Savarkar from sinking into an ocean of rhetoric. That is not to take away from the fact that Hooda did a commendable acting job and played an impressive first-time director.

Cinema, as an artistic medium, is how a filmmaker channelises his/her vision and censoring or banning a film or a book representing a contrarian point of view, does more harm than good. I am unbothered by the political leanings of said filmmaker as long as I'm entertained by what he has to offer in terms of storytelling. And this is where Hooda's film takes a beating.

If only the film had a nuanced structure unravelling moments of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar as a human being, it would have held more appeal, especially to those who wished to learn something new about the controversial politician.

Instead, the pummelling with tedious sermons is akin to a lecture at the pulpit and since the biopic pushes forth an agenda of glorification to convert audiences to a particular ideology, it only tampers with the credibility of the persona, the script, and the filmmaker.

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Convincing Characterisation Peppered With Weak Storytelling

French film director Jean-Luc Godard once stated, "There is no point in having sharp images when you have fuzzy ideas.” This quote pithily defines the inherent weakness of the film where the camerawork, acting, costumes, and artwork are moderately better than the average run-of-mill films, and Randeep Hooda as an actor looks the part of the main protagonist.

But that's about it.

Despite equally compelling performances by Ankita Lokhande, Amit Sial, and Russell Geoffrey Banks and the enchanting camerawork by Arvind Krishna, the film fails to impress for being all pomp and less substance. Add a garrulous narrative with a jarring background score to the mix and the viewer is left strained.

Like an addict who overdoses on substance, Hooda's portrayal of Savarkar subverts the cinematic experience into a rhetorical overkill.

How I wish Hooda had taken a leaf out of Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi and presented a moving depiction of Savarkar’s life!

This would have helped garner greater acceptability for the protagonist and the film would have been saved from the accusations of being 'propagandist' in nature that seeks to market the Hindutva ideology.

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How the Film Fails To Distinguish Facts From Fiction

In fact, the abusive, communal dialogues of the prison guard, the spiteful caricaturing of Mahatma Gandhi, and the complete absence of significant events of the Indian independence movement defeat the purpose of casting Savarkar into a certain halo, which seemingly is the prime motivation of the film.

Coming to the historical falsehoods disseminated by the film, let us begin with producer-director Mahesh Manjrekar’s statement with reference to Swatantrya Veer Savarkar.

Although he was the original director of the biopic and signed Hooda as the hero, Manjrekar walked out since, in his words, "Randeep wanted to include factually incorrect episodes in the film like a scene between Bhagat Singh and Savarkar which left me appalled!”

As per research conducted by renowned journalist Niranjan Takle who's also the author of Who Killed Judge Loya, the biopic’s insertion of Bhagat Singh’s meeting with Savarkar is a "grotesque lie” as they never met in real life and also the fact that Singh was a staunch atheist and stood against religious fanaticism of any kind.
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That Savarkar was an inspiration for Khudiram Bose, Bhagat Singh, and Subhash Chandra Bose is not just a grave folly but also willful mischief.

Chandra Kumar Bose, the nephew of Subhas Chandra Bose, has publicly rapped Hooda, asking him "not to distort history” on X, especially when public records show that Bose had condemned Savarkar and Hindu Mahasabha for their attempts at polarising Indians in a public meeting at West Bengal's Jhargram district in May 1940.

Later too, Subhash condemned Savarkar and Jinnah for their vengeful ideologies.

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A Focussed Effort To Show Gandhi in Poor Light

In keeping with the politics of the day, the film takes potshots against Gandhi and portrays him in a poor light. Much like India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, the film too propagates the false narrative that Savarkar never made a plea for remission of his sentence but only sought improvement in prison conditions, and that too on promptings of the Mahatma!

But author-cum-historian Ashok Kumar Pandey demolishes the obfuscations of Rajnath and Hooda with evidence that Gandhi returned to India from South Africa only in 1915, long after Savarkar had already submitted two petitions for clemency (as they were actually termed in legal parlance) to the British government.
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Niranjan Takle informs, "Savarkar and his family had filed 15 petitions for clemency” and only two out of thousands of prisoners incarcerated in the Cellular Jail of Andaman bear the record for writing appeals for mercy: Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and his elder brother Ganesh Damodar Savarkar!

But surprisingly, the film refers to such servile pleas and his pension from the British as Savarkar’s rightful due!

The cursory manner in which the 1942 Quit India movement, the partition saga and Gandhi’s assassination are dealt with leads one to conclude it as a devious deflection from the questionable actions of Savarkar.

Referring to Gandhi’s assassination, the protagonist is shown saying, "Godse did not do the right thing” but the legal practitioners know that despite acquittal by the court due to the lack of corroborative evidence, the eminent Kapur Commission had concluded that "the facts were destructive of any theory other than the 'conspiracy to murder' by Savarkar and his group, with the chief investigating officer, Jimmy Nagarwala stating that Savarkar was behind the conspiracy."

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The Film Gives Savarkar a Free Pass

But it is through the notable omissions of historical events that the “true picture” (pun intended) becomes visible.

Though Jinnah, Gandhi and the Congress Party are repeatedly trashed or blamed for partition, the film never reveals that Jinnah’s Muslim League and the Savarkar-backed Hindu Mahasabha had jointly formed the provincial governments in Sindh, Bengal and NWFP in 1937.

Babasaheb Ambedkar had stated then that both “Mr Savarkar and Mr Jinnah … not only agree but insist that there be two nations in India” and “both leaders backed resolutions for separate nations for Muslims and Hindus.”

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The nearly three-hour-long biopic is also silent about how Savarkar was nicknamed "Veer” by none other than Savarkar himself when he published his book Barrister Savarkar under the pseudonym "Chitragupt" just as it hides why Savarkar asked his cadres to work against the Quit India Movement to help strengthen the British.

For a film that propounds Savarkar as the mastermind behind assassins Madan Lal Dhingra and Anant Kanhere, it is strange why it shies from analysing his role in Nathuram Godse’s killing of Gandhi. It appears that the filmmakers aren't perturbed with proclaiming Savarkar's Hindutva, but are afraid to discuss his role in Gandhi’s murder. The question is why?

(Deepak Mahaan is a documentary filmmaker and an eminent author. A specialist on Cinema and Sports, he has published numerous pieces in prestigious publications in India and abroad. He tweets at @mahaanmahan. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Bollywood   Randeep Hooda   Veer Savarkar 

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