A conscientious, talented village boy from a poor family gets appointed as a depot manager at the coal mine in a nearby town. It is a big day for him, because he does not nurture lofty ambitions—say, to become a scientist, or a novelist, or a millionaire. He is one in a million, an Everyman, who dreams of a life beyond the village, which, he and his family are convinced, is rightfully his because he has the will, the honesty and a naïve sense of right and wrong inherent in him. He is not a hustler or a go-getter; but a seeker of decency and perfectionism in whatever he does.
He has studied under lamps lit by kerosene and graduated with a “first class” from the college that is located nearest to his village. In school, he was the textbook geek, who had the answer to every question his teacher asked; and was ridiculed by his friends.
Soon after he receives his job appointment letter, it vanishes. Another local steals it, and takes the job by changing his name.
The story of Mohandas, the protagonist of the new film of the same name, is, says the film’s director Mazhar Kamran, that of someone who “Gandhi would care about”.
The theme of Kamran’s film—and Uday Prakash’s story and screenplay (the film is adapted from a book by Prakash)—is informed by an unblinking moral eye. It is populated by sinister politicians, corrupt bureaucrats, petty middle class greed on one side, and a righteous, wronged man, a conscientious journalist and a crusading lawyer on the other side. There is little of what transpires in between these two conflicting worlds—where human beings can err and triumph at the same time; where being good does not necessarily means being not bad.
This in-between world is often the fodder of great art. Mohandas, although an important film because of its political and morally robust story, falls short of being a great film precisely because of its failure to acknowledge this in-between human world.
The story begins in a television newsroom in New Delhi where editors are jaded and cynical, driven by TRPs and profits. Meghna (Sonali Kulkarni), a reporter in the news channel, receives a tape from Anuppur, a town in Madhya Pradesh. The local stringer of the town has videotaped Mohandas (Nakul Vaid) being beaten up by security guards when he tries to barge into the office of the coal mine demanding an explanation of why his job was stolen. Meghna, disillusioned by unearthing political scandals, decides to go to Anuppur. By then, Mohandas is about to give up. His search for the man who has taken his name gets a fillip when both Meghna and Harshvardhan (Aditya Srivastava), a local lawyer with a conscience, get involved.
Does Mohandas get his job back? Will he reject the system that fails top recognize his worth? Or will he embrace it and adapt to it? The film provides definitive—and absolute—answers to these questions.
Beginning with the title, Gandhi is a constant reminder in the film. There’s the village and its people whose welfare Gandhi always championed; among them is the man with talent but without pedigree and wealth; and there’s an establishment that runs on rules entirely contrary to Gandhi’s ideology of non-violence. Mohandas’ failure is also Gandhi’s failure—if he is beaten by the establishment, Gandhi’s irrelevance and absence in modern India will be reaffirmed.
‘Man against the system’ is a time-tested motif in our cinema—from Bimal Roy and Mrinal Sen to some of the socially engaging cinema of the 1970s and 1980s, it has been used for melodramatic as well as emotionally powerful effect. It’s a theme that has always had a hook—we sigh when the righteous hero or the hero who challenges the oppressive establishment gets his revenge’ or his poetic justice. Mohandas, unfortunately, speaks to us with too preachy a voice—there is little humour and little respite in this unjust universe, the injustice of it all seems to hammer in. One of my editors once said very rightly that there is a difference between being serious and being solemn. In most parts, Mohandas is much too solemn.
Technically, it is a very competent film considering it is not made with an astronomical budget. Kamran is a very experienced cameraman who graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, and began his career in the Mumbai film industry as the cinematographer of Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya. In Mohandas, his debut feature film, his camera work has a rawness, a guerilla style similar to that of good documentary film-making. The coal mine town is recreated with great care and detailing—the air is clouded by white dust, roads are filled with grey drivel, the village is pristinely beautiful, punctuated only by stagnant pools of water polluted by waste from the mine. Real villagers from villages in the Sonbhadra district bordering Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, where the film was shot, act in the film as extras, which lends authenticity and adds local colour to the film.
His other achievement is extracting good performances. It is a good cast to begin with. Nakul Vaid, as Mohandas, does not come across as a novice. He earlier acted in Ab Tak Chappan, and has acted in the TV series Bhanwar; here he essays the role with seeming ease. The character he plays is, of course, a unidimensional one and for any skilled actor, it may not be such a challenging role—to be either angry or sulky or defiant. He always has to be, as Pablo Neruda says in a different context, “tired of being a man”. But Vaid’s willingness and ability to immerse himself in a role is obvious and he surely he is an actor to look forward to.
In the lawyer’s role, Aditya Srivastava is very convincing—he has done many good roles in the past and it does not come as a surprise. The sore thumb is Sonali Kulkarni’s shrill and awkward histrionics. The film opens and closes with her in the frame, but she failed to move me even a little. There are a host of other small, but competent, performances in the film.
Mohandas is not an entertaining film, you will not be intrigued or humoured. I came out of the theatre slightly drained, because of its overtly moralistic tone. But I believe it’s a film you can’t ignore. There is a Mohandas, the man Gandhi would care about, in every corner of our world, and his story is bound to affect us in some way.
Mohandas released in theatres on Friday.