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The tragedy of a nation and Mohandas movie review

September 7, 2009

It’s a story that takes place all over India. Poor people deprived of their rights. Recently in Uttar Pradesh a young mechanic from Sitapur unearthed a scam when he decided to check why his father’s old age pension had not arrived. Under the old age pension scheme, the Department of Social Welfare is to pay Rs 300 per month to the poor who are over 65 years of age. Rs 700 crore has been set aside for this scheme yearly, but now it has been discovered that almost a lakh of the beneficiaries are not true beneficiaries at all. Villages like Gorakhpur, Kaushambi, Lakhimpur Kheri, Mirzapur and Mahoba are also victims of this scam. In a belated move, the state government is now physically checking the lists in all villages.

The misuse of government funds happens all over India ofcourse. Dedicated chief ministers like Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy (who died in a helicopter crash a few days ago) like to make surprise checks in villages to ensure that the monies set aside for the poor are actually reaching them. Most states don’t seem to care. We know what happened in Maharashtra. Very little of the crores set aside for the relief of farmers actually reached them. Recently, social activist and journalist Vilas Wankhede put in an RTI application and discovered what appears to be a huge scam relating to relief schemes for farmers who committed suicide in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region. And he has accused a six-time former Member of Parliament (MP), relatives of a sitting Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and several former MLAs.

This is the story of India. Unknown heroes like the anonymous young mechanic and Wankhede bring us hope. As I had mentioned in a comment a few posts earlier, India has its heroes. They challenge the system despite the fact that their lives could be endangered. And it is their work that gives others courage. For example, after the young mechanic exposed the scam in the pension scheme, “people now come with lists of the beneficiaries, and demand a probe.”

And that is what the film MohandasA Man Lost In His Own Nation touches upon. It is a movie which is dedicated to whistleblowers like Manjunath Shanmugam, and Satyendra Dubey who blew the lid of scams which involved crores of rupees and as a result had to pay with their lives. A list of those who defied the system is here. Given in a comment on this blog by Vikram. However, this movie is not about a whistle blower per se, and nor is it about Mohandas Gandhi, the father of our nation, although it does tell us about a poor lawyer who decides to help the protagonist Mohandas despite threats to his life.

The protagonist in this movie is a poor naive village boy called Mohandas whose identity is stolen by another. Mohandas is Gandhiji’s common man and hence the name. The villain conspirators in the movie take the trouble to steal Mohandas’ identity so that they can benefit by crores of rupees. Getting into the details of this would reveal the plot and that can’t be done as suspense is an important element in the movie.

The movie is based on a short story by Uday Prakash and the story is the best thing about the movie. It is a powerful heart rending story with twists and turns that leaves you praying for a happy ending. Another great thing about this movie is its setting. Most of the story takes place in a village called Anuppur in Madhya Pradesh, and it was shot in a real village in Sonbhadra district in Uttar Pradesh.

The cinematography is excellent, and why shouldn’t it be. It is none other than the cinematographer of Satya fame Mazhar Kamran, who is behind the camera. And he is the director as well, this being his debut film as director. He has done a great job as a director. The film moves fairly fast and suspense is maintained throughout. Characters are developed well, and are not stereotypes. There are no glamorous faces, only real faces and real people.

However, I think Kamran made a mistake in casting Nakul Vaid as Mohandas. Nakul Vaid looks like a city bred yuppie with his plump and rosy cheeks and the casual chic that he displays in his posture and style. By no stretch of the imagination could he pass off for a villager, not even in fancy dress. That is all it seemed anyway. A city man dressed up as a villager. The couple chosen as his parents are so perfect, it makes Vaid all the more unreal in this role. Wrong casting makes it difficult to empathise with the character. Throughout the movie I got a feeling that Nakul Vaid is not really Mohandas, but simply an actor pulled in to play his part. A play within a play.

The other main character in the movie is the reporter Meghna, played by Sonali Kulkarni. She is better for her role, although not perfect. It was difficult to believe that her character was a top notch reporter in a news channel as she came across more as a fresher with 2-3 years of experience. Not a thing one would complain about in a mainstream movie. But this is supposed to be a “real” movie so the expectations are higher.

Overall the acting of all the people in this movie was average and at times stilted and stiff. Sonali’s scenes with her colleagues seemed artificial and it is here that the inexperience of the director shows.

If one has to sum up, this is a serious thought provoking film. As a judge in the movie laments, goondas and mobsters have penetrated all democratic institutions in this country, and it has made a mockery of our democracy. This is the main message of the movie and while it may sound cynical to some, it does seem to be the truth. The movie gives out little hope because it tells us that though one can move a few mountains at the ground level because of the efforts of a few people, the real problem lies at the top.

From the real life examples I gave at the beginning of this post, it is clear that unless there is political will to root out the corruption, nothing will change in this country.

(Photo credits: the first photo is from bollywoodadda.com and the other is from india-server.com)

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27 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2009 6:53 pm

    hmm… looks like it could have been a great movie if in hands of a good director..

    stories like these make people think.. but for how long.. maybe till they come out of theatres…? (not being pessimistic.. but sometimes i feel so)

  2. Vinod permalink
    September 7, 2009 7:04 pm

    Very timely for me, Nita. ;)

  3. September 7, 2009 7:36 pm

    Nita, here is an excerpt from Ramachandra Guha’s ‘India after Gandhi’, where he quotes a letter from a young Indian sent to America for military training shortly after independence (December 1947 to be precise),

    “This country is not one that I will ever get fond of. I have not got a very high opinion of them. The people that I have to deal with are very kind, hospitable and have been very good to the two of us. But somehow I feel there is a trace of artificiality in that and also it is the result of trying to impress one. They I think are very jealous of the old world and its background and culture and this results in an aggressive inferiority complex. As for the state of morality there is none. People seem to delight in trying to outwit each other by any means mainly crooked. The politicians are racketeers and big business have a tight grip on everything in the country. The small country tradesmen and the farmer I think have their hands pretty securely tied by the big men. I do hope our country proceeds with caution and doesn’t get entirely under the influence of the [United] States.”

    Not for one moment am I suggesting that the fact that America ended up okay, means the same for India. But we do have a chance, and it is the people in that list you linked to that are showing us the way.

    P.S.: One must realize that this was the letter of the son of an elite Indian (a rich landlord whose children became communist) and not that of a Dalit woman. But I think that one of the things Indian;s have achieved over the last 60 years is that now a Dalit girl can migrate and say what she thinks.

  4. Ganga permalink
    September 7, 2009 9:11 pm

    Nice blog.
    Reached your blog searching about swine flu.
    I also like seeing things in a different angle.
    The state of our land. It will improve. But whether we will witness all these, I am not sure. But our children will live in a cleaner India.
    After all our’s is a great nation.

  5. September 7, 2009 11:49 pm

    “If one has to sum up, this is a serious thought provoking film. As a judge in the movie laments, goondas and mobsters have penetrated all democratic institutions in this country, and it has made a mockery of our democracy.”

    Nita, at what point in time did this happen, and who is responsible for it? Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi around Emergency?

  6. September 8, 2009 7:11 am

    Haven’t seen the movie hence will not comment on it. Nita, only 2 lines have bring me hope in the whole well researched article — “This is the story of India. Unknown heroes like the anonymous young mechanic and Wankhede bring us hope.”

    A Conversation with Uday Prakash is here.
    http://www.anothersubcontinent.com/up1.html

    Dedicated chief ministers like Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy.. I don’t know for sure.But read another part of life when he has given free hands to his son..

    http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/ahmedalishaik/2200/53216/the-business-of-politics.html

  7. September 8, 2009 8:29 am

    Thanks for sharing that link with us Vikram and Nita. It turned out to be quite an eye opener. I had no idea so many people had given up their lives for the cause. They are the real heroes!

  8. September 8, 2009 9:31 am

    oorja, the pessimism comes when one feels that one has to do a lot, that the task ahead of us is huge. Instead of that if each one of us simply focuses on the little that we can do, it goes a long way as we are all doing it and little drops is what makes a sea. Whether it is sponsoring an orphan’s education, living our life honestly, protesting any injustice done to us, refusing to pay bribes and so on. All of these things matter. The worst thing is cynicism which leads us to go along with the system.

    Vinod, not sure what you mean.

    Vikram, not everyone would agree that America turned out OK. :) And ofcourse people like those show us the way. Not just people like those, but all those who lead honest lives and refuse to be suppressed by the system. All those who seek information and fight for their rights.

    Ganga, yes I agree. When I was 12 I told my friends that when I grow up India will not be so poor, India will be a world power. At that time people thought I was just a nationalist. Today they realise that it is possible. And if we had hope then, it certainly makes more sense to have more hope now. At that time we didn’t even know what was wrong!

    Vishesh, it is not necessary for everyone to organise themselves into groups and make a stand. Ofcourse those who do it are doing a great service to this country. But all of us can do our little bit. If you read my reply to Oorja you will know what I mean.

    Amit, these things happen slowly. At the time of independence India was clean. One used to say look that man is corrupt! It was unusual. Today we point fingers and say look that man is honest! That is how India has changed. I personally believe that the socialist raj where government people had no accountability is responsible. The past has shown us that socialism did not help the poor, because unless you have money generated, the poor can’t be helped. Unfortunately socialism also protected govt servants. Govt was swathed in secrecy and red tape which allowed corruption to flourish. Today with the RTI act, and citizens becoming more empowered, this is changing. It took half a century to make India the way it is, and it will take another half a century I think before we see a change. I believe the change has started. People have hope, otherwise they won’t risk their lives.

    yayaver, yes there is a lot to hope for. I think India is changing. I hope the icard system which Nandan Nikekani is in charge of, will help it along. And thanks for the links.

    Nova, you are welcome.

  9. September 8, 2009 9:58 am

    Thanks for the post, Nita. I don’t know when I will be able to, but now I do want to see the film.

    I also liked the way you’ve threaded and combined the two segments into one post.

    Mahendra, thanks. And yeah, the film is worth seeing. If not for the acting, then for the story and the realism. – Nita

  10. Ram permalink
    September 8, 2009 11:05 am

    Dedicated Chief Minsiter? Who???!!! Y S Rajasekhara Reddy!!!

    Big Joke!

    He is dedicated to his Son and his businesses.

    Ram, I am sure you know more about YSR than me. I know little about him and as you must have gathered from this post I am lauding his going to the villages for surprise checks. That is wonderful in my eyes. I have no idea about his son, and his other disqualifications. When I write a post on YSR (which I doubt) I shall certainly keep it in mind. Thanks. – Nita

  11. vasudev permalink
    September 8, 2009 12:43 pm

    [goondas and mobsters have penetrated all democratic institutions in this country, and it has made a mockery of our democracy]

    ‘kkrishna’s konfessions’ by smita jain is a hilariously written novel which touches upon the life of an ultramodern media woman caught suddenly in the perils of a modernising india where you won’t expect what can befall you all of a sudden.

    sounds like an interesting novel. :) – Nita

    • vasudev permalink
      September 9, 2009 9:48 am

      nita..yes it is. you may even know her, being in the media line yourself. anyway, she is a tv/movie script writer and a journo. the book as such does not give too much of a brain excercise but it is a sit-through at one go and i won’t tell you more if you plan to read it.

  12. September 8, 2009 5:31 pm

    If these bribes are taken unofficially in India (against the law), they are taken officially in the United States (through hopelessly high bonus packages etc). They even started distributing high bonus amounts for top officials of the companies (from the aid amount) after going bankrupt! I would definitely not take inspiration from such a system either.

    Destination Infinity

    DI, well, they have a different system. And we don’t have to take inspiration from them. We need to seek our own path. – Nita

  13. September 8, 2009 7:14 pm

    Nita,I am sure I would not have seen the movie.
    Did you say dedicated CM YSR???
    His only interest was to promote his son’s business running into thousands of crores.
    Whenever and whatever is written about anyone in politics,leads to corruption.
    Sorry for going off the subject,but it hurts when one sees these fellows behaving like noblemen.

    BKChowla, none of our politicians is clean. I know hardly anything about YSR but I laud his checking about whats happening in villages. Even the worst human being and politician has something good about him. And no you are not going off the subject at all. YSR clearly has done something good. Why see people as black and white? – Nita

  14. September 8, 2009 10:24 pm

    This sounds like a very interesting concept, Nita. Thanks for the review…i’ll try to catch this movie.

    Hopefully we will get to see more of such meaningful movies, unlike the silly stuff going around these days!

  15. September 8, 2009 11:35 pm

    Seems like a nice movie to watch. I have to catch this movie sometime. Good review!

  16. September 9, 2009 12:10 am

    hmm…did you see the movie Yeh Mera India? the trailer and the dialogues sound interesting. Have to check that one out along with Mohandas

  17. September 9, 2009 7:13 am

    Nita, I have posted a reply to Vishesh’s comment but it isnt showing up. Can you check ?

    • September 9, 2009 9:55 am

      Vikram, for some reason it had gone into my spam folder. Just retrieved it.

  18. danisulu permalink
    September 9, 2009 1:14 pm

    Hi Nita
    I came looking for your blog because I remember reading something about racial discrimination, especially of North Eastern People some two odd years back. Your blogg is still full of vigour and freshness that I encountered last time I visited your blogg.

    Well, as to scams in public department, better not say. It is so much day today activity, you know, it seems to pass off as a matter of routine.
    Only effective education to the masses can eradicate. As of now, the literate and educated ones are on the side of groups if not part of, who are scheming such scams not on the side of affected people. Once the affected people are educated enough to be conscious of their right, the system itself will self right itself. Till than, there will be occasional acts of bravery, whose appreciation will get folded up in the books of few intellectuals.
    Disseminate education with earnestness, this is the only panacea to all social,political and economic evils.

    • September 10, 2009 11:25 pm

      Hi danisulu, welcome back. And thanks. True what you say, education brings awareness of rights. But what is frightening is also the kind of apathy one sees around. I am not sure whether it is just posturing but there are educated people who say they don’t protest because “nothing will happen.” Maybe it’s laziness, or an excuse, but it cannot be the truth. Things do happen. If not the first time, then the next, or the next, or the next.

  19. Ram permalink
    September 9, 2009 5:36 pm

    Nita,

    Editorial in ‘The Hindu’
    http://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/article15379.ece

    Just thought that it can be useful if in case you write about YSR in future

  20. September 11, 2009 9:48 am

    This type of movies are hardly made this days but as the movie publicity fails to reach people we are unknown about the reality shown in the movie.

  21. September 14, 2009 2:59 am

    An interesting film I must say, though, the film could have been a lot better had he actually focused on the the main idea about identity in the social and political context rather then shifting into a complete redundant plot line, a reason for which, the last shot of the film feels forced and fake.

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