On paper, the story of Gour Hari Das is compelling and moving. A man who participated in India’s freedom struggle in the 1940s, was incarcerated and then spent three decades asking the government to acknowledge his status as a freedom fighter. Over the years, Das meticulously filed every piece of correspondence between himself and the various government agencies that he approached. He named this his “Freedom File".

The film does not capture all this adequately. It’s repetitive and reverential, painting the protagonist with one brushstroke—as a saintly, deserving Gandhian. In one scene, we see that Das always keeps two cotton plant buds in his bag. Vinay Pathak plays Das, who was raised in Odisha but relocated to Mumbai as an adult. The screenplay shuttles between 1945, 1975 and 2002-06, covering the years of paper-pushing and perseverance. Frustration seems to wash off Das’ back. He just swallows the disappointment, turns the other cheek and tackles the next hurdle. But your heart goes out to Das’ wife Lakshmi, played persuasively by Konkona Sen Sharma. She is patient, frustrated, yet supportive of her husband’s seemingly futile efforts.

Das’ motivation, we are reminded recurrently, is not to get state-sponsored benefits like college admission and a pension but to prove to the world, and to all those who mock him, that his claim to fame is indeed true. The catalyst to his bullheaded determination is born out of the disbelief he sees in his son Alok’s eyes.

Das finds an ally in journalist Rajiv (Ranvir Shorey), who comes with his own baggage and is repeatedly heard disparaging feminists and demonstrating his chauvinism—a superfluous sidebar. We also have to tolerate shallow office jibes and banter between an editor and his deputy.

Pathak’s character does not appear to age from 50 to 80 and his demeanour and expressions stay limited, as if he is ensuring he retains his shiny halo. There is a strange dream scene with Das talking to a rather healthy M.K. Gandhi, and another where Das is bathed in sunlight, back to the camera, weaving cotton on a spinning wheel.

Director Ananth Mahadevan is sincere in his storytelling. The script is laced with several comments on a changing Indian society that compensate for a proclivity to lecturing. The freedom fighter certificate, known as a Tamra Patra, is no longer stamped on copper but printed on plain paper as part of a government cost-cutting effort. In the scene where Das receives his certificate, he tells the chief minister that maybe India was better off under British rule—at least people knew their enemy. Gour Hari Dastaan’s relevance to modern Indian society, where Gandhi’s head on money is emblematic of him rather than his teachings, is one of the thoughts that resonates in this “tribute".

Gour Hari Dastaan released in theatres on Friday.

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