Review of the movie
A summary of the movie can be found in many places in the web, like here. I would tell whatever is necessary for this review. In short the film tells how a well educated, forward minded person becomes a terrorist and almost assassinates Gandhi before realizing the reality. There have been other films on terrorism and religious fundamentalism, but what I like in this movie is that it almost goes inside the psyche of a terrorist and examines why he becomes one, apart from showing how he realizes the truth.
Saket Ram (Kamal Hassan) is an archeologist working in Indus valley sites with his friends Amjad Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) and Lalwani (Saurabh Shukla), when Hindu – Muslim riots break out (during the time of partition). He returns immediately to Calcutta to join his wife Aparna (Rani Mukherji) and spends some happy time with her. However as riots break out in Calcutta, they are attacked by a Muslim mob and while he is tied into inaction, his wife is raped and killed. The intimate scenes between Kamal and Rani and the brutal rape scene are often criticized, but I feel both are important to show how much Saket is affected by this incident. In his fury Saket takes up arms and attacks and kills some Muslims until he regains his self. Later he comes into contact with a Hindu extremist – Sriram Abhyankar (Atul Kulkarni), a Tanjavur Marat. Totally broken he comes back to his home town (Sri Valli Puttur?) in Tamil nadu. Hardly before he returns to normality he is compelled into a second marriage with Maithili (Vasundhra Das), a typical Tamil Brahmin girl. This part of the film shows how he still suffers from the trauma of the events in Calcutta. Unable to forget the events he makes an emotional trip to Calcutta. Here he meets the Abhyankar again, who fuels his hatred towards Muslims and says that the root cause for this (Muslims enjoying privileges) is M.K.Gandhi.
Later he returns to his hometown and stays for sometime there. Now feeling quite stifled by his traditional family and needing a change he goes to Maharashtra(?) with his new wife. There he attends a party given by the Maharajah, who acts as the organizer for Hindu extremist activity. There, brainwashed and under the influence of alcohol he swears on his mission to kill Gandhi as he happens to be one of the two chosen persons to do this. The imagery in this part is a very beautiful one. It shows how confused he is under the influence of drugs. A drunk Saket rushes to have sex with his wife, just when seeing a sexy dance performance. Later he is shown to visualize her like the gun he just picked up before the Maharajah. This hints at how sex and violence are often outlets of suppressed emotions triggered by an event. Some symbolic scenes earlier in the party also show his guilt of having orphaned a young blind Muslim girl (by killing her father in Calcutta riots). The imagery later where he braves a strong wind when aiming with his gun seems to show the struggle between conscience and instinct of revenge. Immediately afterwards, the other chosen person to kill Gandhi – Abhyankar - is critically wounded in a Polo match and he extracts a promise from Saket that he would do the mission whenever told so.
Saket now returns to his hometown, but remains a disturbed man since he knows that he may have to complete his mission at any time. After some time, he receives a telegram, which says him to deal with Gandhi when he stays in Delhi. Saket leaves home without informing anyone and after renouncing worldly ties in Benares comes to Delhi to plot the assassination. It is here that an interesting diversion comes in. Saket goes to a Muslim dominated locality in Delhi to retrieve his gun, which he has misplaced. There he meets his old friend Amjad. After going to the soda factory to retrieve his gun, he confides to his friend of his mission. In the soda factory, because of his gun the Muslims there (who are also armed) consider him as their enemy. After a small fight he escapes from there. However, due to circumstances this leads to a Hindu – Muslim riot in that place. It is interesting to see that first Saket argues with Amjad against Muslims, but later in soda factory he begins to defend Muslims when he sees that it is the Hindus who keep fighting even after a peace offer was made. This event I think shows that there is no one side which is correct in religious riots and they arise because even small things (like Saket taking a gun there) can trigger a riot in a tense situation. The most touching scene of the film was when the police asks Amjad in his death bed to identify the man with the gun (who was Saket himself) who started all this and Amjad replies, holding Saket’s hand – “I only know Ram, my dear brother Ram” – meaning he still sees the real human behind Saket. Amjad dies because of the injuries in the fighting and this causes further guilt to Saket.
Later Saket’s in-law’s find him at Gandhi’s place and assuming he has come to serve Gandhi, introduce him to Gandhi. Further he becomes very familiar with Gandhi as he is hailed as a savior of Muslim community in the recent riots in Delhi. These scenes which show Gandhi are very interesting scenes in the movie. Kamal doesn’t take the easy way out by showing him as a holy person beyond question. In fact in one scene, Gandhi himself is shown to say that he is not a Mahatma. Later in another, he says he is helpless against these Hindu – Muslim riots and only thing he can do is to fast. This is more or less my stand on Gandhi – that he might have done normal mistakes of a human and it is wrong to glorify him as a perfect Mahatma or disparage him as a Hindu-hater or a cunning politician. As Kamal (or is it somebody else?) told in an interview “The greatness of Gandhi lies in the fact that, even if you remove all the halo and popular image from him and dissect him (his actions) to the core, he still comes out a better person than what we would have thought”.
Already disturbed by the riots he started in Delhi and after seeing that Gandhi did not deliberately try to harm anyone, Saket goes to confess to Gandhi – but its too late as Nathuram Godse has just killed Gandhi. Nasserudin Shah in his limited role gives an excellent performance as Gandhi. Shah Rukh does his cameo role quite well. The two heroines have little screen presence, but perform well.
Hence, the movie is a brave attempt which almost succeeds in dissecting the psyche of a terrorist and hence the heart of a terrorist movement. Even good, educated people become terrorists due to certain triggers in a volatile political situation. Hence to prevent terrorism (and religious fundamentalism) would be to maintain a stable and just political situation, with respect for other religions/groups. We should always try to address real inequalities in the society, since when there are not redressed they lead to terrorism. Also people should be made more aware of divisive forces which encourage terrorism. It also tells not to target the family/community of a terrorist – since he becomes one due to circumstances and may not have anything to do with his community.
Also there is one more layer to the movie, in that all this is shown in flashback as old Saket is being taken to the hospital but is stopped on the way because of riots in the anniversary of Babri masjid demolitions (Dec. 6th). As we relate with the story it is clear that we have not learnt from our mistakes - that religious fundamentalism and terrorism are self-defeating and endless exercises in terror. If we want to more interpretation we would always find more layers in this movie – like why the title is “Hey Ram” when Gandhi is not shown to be saying this during his death – whether it is directed towards the two ‘Ram’s in the movie and the real life Ram all of whom plotted to kill Gandhi; the naming of the Saket’s second wife as Mythili (other name for Sita) and quite few other things, but of course we never know whether the director intended this or not.
There are many other subtle things which reveal the meticulousness with which the movie was taken. Like the photo of Hitler in the Maharaja’s palace which shows the Nazi tilt of the then Hindu fundamentalists, postman hesitating to give the telegram directly to Kamal due to untouchability at that time in Tamilnadu, showing the then Maharaja’s hobbies like hunting and Polo etc. The same meticulousness also seems to present in the period sets. The background score by Illayaraja suits the mood of the movie. There are few full-fledged songs, but those that are present justify their presence and are quite good. Nee partha… song is a haunting one.
I would try to analyze the most common criticisms of the movie that I am aware of.
- Kamal seems to be obsessed of himself and almost every scene has him. He hogs the screen presence.
- Too much of violence and sex.
- Not easily understandable. Too many English & Hindi dialogs and sound quality is not too good.
- Kamal has wasted good actors like Girish Karnad, Hema malini with small roles
- Quite complex, symbolic and often multi-layered.
- It is anti-Hindu/ anti-Muslim/ anit-Congress/ anti-RSS
- Kamal doesn’t act well and appears stony faced thoughout.
Comparison with Mani Ratnam’s “Terrorism Trilogy”
None of the films in the trilogy (Roja, Bombay and Uyire (Dil se)) really stand up to “Hey Ram” in the depth of the message or the way it is told. Only Roja comes closest though it is still very far away. Here are individual comments,
- Roja – This movie is quite good through out and in the end it gives the message of how even a terrorist can be reformed and made to see the truth. Of course this only shows the human side of a terrorist (something which “Hey Ram” also does) and this is hardly the method to solve it. Offers some insights into Kashmir Terrorism, but none very deep.
- Bombay – Certainly the worst of the trilogy. When somebody remarks to me that this is a good film on terrorism, I get irritated to no end. The film it self doesn’t offer any new insights into the Bombay riots, except that two rival religious leaders were fuelling it, which is quite well known. At least Mani Ratnam could’ve avoided the preachy climax – where Hindu and Muslim children join hands, just after a riot. How realistic is this? Anyway, what is the point – how is this going to solve terrorism? Endings like these encourage the thought that religious harmony will magically develop.
- Uyire (Dil Se) – A confusing movie in some ways and ‘poetic’ in some ways. At least Mani Ratnam doesn’t turn preachy here. It can be taken to show the ever present struggle between love (of all kinds) and terror and how sometimes even love can’t stop a terrorist. Quite a good one for this theme.
Hence my point that despite better in many ways then some of the most popular films in terrorism, this movie is sadly very un-appreciated and under rated.