My Expectations From Randeep Hooda's 'Swatantrya Veer Savarkar'

Aravindan Neelakandan

Mar 09, 2024, 01:01 PM | Updated Mar 10, 2024, 11:41 AM IST

From the trailer, it seems that actor Randeep Hooda has internalised Veer Savarkar.
From the trailer, it seems that actor Randeep Hooda has internalised Veer Savarkar.
  • While it remains to be seen how the film will handle the complex life of Veer Savarkar, Randeep Hooda deserves praise for taking on the challenging task. The film is set to release on 22 March.
  • A detailed trailer for the film Swatantrya Veer Savarkar was released on 4 March. Randeep Hooda has directed the film and played the role of Veer Savarkar.

    From what the trailer shows, it seems that Hooda has internalised Savarkar. From Abhinav Bharat and London to Kalapani and the Hindu Mahasabha, the portrayal of Savarkar appears impressive and commendable.

    Films depicting the lives of freedom fighters and social reformers are a common and well-known genre in the Indian film industry.

    The early biopics mostly romanticised a few chosen leaders in melodramatic ways. Then came Gandhi in 1982, made by Richard Attenborough. That film, too, was a hagiographic biopic, but it astounded an entire generation of Indians with its realistic re-enactments of the major events in India’s freedom struggle, including the Jallianwallabagh massacre. It set a new and high standard for biopics in the minds of the Indians.

    In 1993 came Sardar — a biopic on Vallabhbhai Patel, the unifier of modern India. Directed by Ketan Mehta, with Paresh Rawal in the lead role, the film skilfully brought out the subtle inner differences within the contemporary Congress party.

    Released in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri structure in Ayodhya, the film needed to portray Patel’s involvement in the Somnath Temple reconstruction, which it did. Sardar ended with Patel moving into eternity with India, the ancient nation, being strongly and irreversibly forged into a modern nation-state.

    Another acclaimed biopic was that of Dr B R Ambedkar, directed by Jabbar Patel and released in 2000. The stellar performance by Malayalam actor Mammootty in the titular role raised the Indian biopic genre to a yet higher standard.

    In 2001, the film Veer Savarkar was released. It took almost a decade for the famous composer Sudhir Phadke to finish and release the film that was entirely funded by public donations. The Ved Rahi directorial highlighted in a touching manner Savarkar's suffering in the Andaman jail.

    It's difficult to determine the impact of Veer Savarkar on the general public. However, for those familiar with Savarkar's ordeal in Kalapani, the 2001 film was quite impactful.

    Coming back to the trailer of the 2024 film, the initial version contained a factual error. It said Veer Savarkar inspired Khudiram Bose. In reality, Khudiram preceded Savarkar.

    In Gandhi, all other political leaders were overshadowed by the Mahatma's persona. The film also highlighted Jawaharlal Nehru as, perhaps, the only Indian leader who understood Gandhi. The Westerners were depicted as having a better understanding of Gandhi than most Indians.

    A fictional character by the name of Prakash, a blend of M S Golwalkar and Savarkar, was shown in the film. His involvement in Gandhi's assassination was strongly implied.

    Here is how the script introduces this character:

    Sitting along in the shadows of a stationary tonga a little distance down the street an elderly man (Prakash) with a short, close-cropped beard and the taut, sunken flesh of a cadaver is watching...

    This depiction of the Savarkar-Golwalkar composite character subtly but effectively conveyed a sense of aversion. This represents propaganda at its most nuanced and efficient. While many viewers may not have even noticed the character, the associated negative connotations were transferred subliminally.

    In the film about Dr Ambedkar, Gandhi was portrayed as almost villainous, unaware of the realities of the Scheduled Community. He appeared as a figure akin to a modern corporate guru, isolated in his wisdom and surrounded by sycophants.

    Similarly, in the 2001 film Veer Savarkar, Gandhi is depicted as a proponent of the caste system, advocating for a birth-based chatur-varna, a stance strongly opposed by Savarkar.

    The post-independence cult of Gandhi-Nehru, associated with dynastic interests, has sparked a reaction. Today, the role of non-violence is questioned to the point of being dismissed altogether. Gandhi has become a symbol of effeminate weakness, and Nehru a symbol of opportunist hypocrisy. Bose is the symbol of the valiant, manly battle against the British. This shift represents a rebalancing of narratives, but it also risks diminishing the broader concept of Hindutva.

    If the trailer for Hooda's film is any indication, then Swatantrya Veer Savarkar, too, caricatures Gandhi along similar lines. Caricaturing an antagonist in a biopic may not achieve the intended effect. This is why I referenced the composite character in Gandhi. That film subtly associates negativity with the character without resorting to caricature.

    One hopes that Hooda's film will also show the Vijaya Dashami celebration at India House that Gandhi presided over at the request of Veer Savarkar.

    The trailer also depicts Gandhi almost naively suggesting that if India cooperated with the British, they would reciprocate, even as Veer Savarkar suffered in the cellular jail. The truth is that during the First World War, Savarkar was also of the opinion that Indians should cooperate with the British.

    At that time, there were quite a lot of constitutional reforms. One cannot discount even minutely the fact of the violence of the revolutionaries of the Anushilan Samiti in Bengal and Savarkar's Abinav Bharat Society being instrumental in creating this change.

    Savarkar also favoured the Indianisation of the British Indian military. While he did advise Bose to seek support from Indian organisations abroad, particularly that of Rash Behari Bose in Japan, who was also the Hindu Mahasabha leader in that country, Savarkar was not entirely comfortable with the Japanese invasion of India. (Rash Behari Bose is missing in the trailer. Hope he is there in the film.)

    The Hindu Mahasabha under Savarkar was democratic to a fault. Many times, provincial Hindu Mahasabha leaders would strongly differ with Savarkar, yet the latter never curbed their dissent, even if he was bitter towards their opinions. This included personalities like Syama Prasad Mookerjee.

    One hopes that the film will depict the extensive research that went into Savarkar's authoritative work on 1857 (whose value is much more than just a text describing the clichéd Hindu-Muslim unity).

    The film's trailer also shows Savarkar utter a unique, 'secular' definition: "anyone who loves Hind is Hindu." However, Savarkar's actual definition states that Hindus are those who consider India both their motherland and sacred land. There is a difference between the two.

    Capturing all aspects of Savarkar in a single film or narrative is challenging. Portraying a figure like Savarkar in a non-hagiographic manner is nearly impossible, since his life indeed scintillated with glory.

    He was a man who defied the reality of his circumstances and rose above it. In many ways, he was far ahead of his time. Yet, the dreamer-visionary was also a harsh realist.

    Making a film about a figure like Swatantrya Veer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is a daunting task. Hooda deserves praise for taking it on.

    I hope that the film, which releases on 22 March, is worthy of the sacrifices and struggles of Veer Savarkar.

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    Future of Indian politics and economy is closely linked to the politics and economy of Uttar Pradesh