What would have been the story of India had Mahatma Gandhi’s vision for her not been cut-short by three menacing bullets from Nathuram Godse’s pistol on 30 January, 1948, as he was headed to a prayer meet at Birla House in New Delhi? The ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ on what this country could have been fated for and what it has come to be anguish many and of those, filmmaker A Balakrishnan feels compelled to put forth his views through a film. To be released worldwide this January 30 in almost ‘100 cities including London and New York’, Welcome Back Gandhi explores how Gandhism would have worked in today’s times.
Upon his death, Gandhi (S Kanagaraj) meets Lord Shiva and is granted a visit back to India. What he sees on his return disgusts him so much that he launches a satyagraha. Here, he greatly influences the chief minister of a fictional state, Siddharth (Anupam Kher) who sets about to create ‘Ramarajya’.
The parallel with the Anna Hazare movement and Aam Aadmi Party is unmistakable. But Balakrishnan insists his film started off much before the movement came to fore. “I started researching my film in 2006. I had just made a Tamil film on Kamaraj (2004) about K Kamaraj who was a towering personality in Tamil Nadu’s politics. I had been reading up a lot and as I delved into books on Gandhi and by Gandhi, I realised there was so much about his philosophy that is relevant today. His approach to simplicity and his selflessness are inspiring. Here was a man born into riches and who ended up wearing just a dhoti. It’s difficult to read about Gandhi and not do something about what it arouses in you,” says the 46-year-old director.
Interestingly, Hazare saw portions of the film when it was being shot in 2012. “I want Arvind Kejriwal to see it too. I am making negotiations on that front,” says Balakrishnan who personally sees potential in youth-based movements. “But I am not aligned to AAP.”
Welcome Back Gandhi was shot within 40 days, mostly in Chennai, and on a tight budget of `3 crore despite the fact that celebrated talents like Anupam Kher and music director Ilayaraja are associated with it. “Anupam Kher was so charmed by the concept that he charged a nominal fee. Ilayaraja, too, accepted fees only for recording,” says Balakrishnan who associates the long journey from 2006 to the film’s imminent release later this month as indicative of the pains of filmmaking.
In 1985, Balakrishnan left Chennai for Mumbai in search of better opportunities. As he wound his way through odd jobs, he got into the advertising industry, made his way back to Chennai, sharpened his cinema sensibilities and then made various documentaries. Kamaraj was his debut as a film director.
Worldwide screenings of Welcome Back Gandhi will take off with a premiere on Republic Day, in Porbandar where Mahatma Gandhi was born. “Satellite broadcasting has made it possible for a film to reach far and wide and we too will do so. We have liaised with Gandhi study centres, Gujarati and Marwari associations and Tamil Sangams who have facilitated shows at theatres across the globe,” explains Balakrishnan.
The film’s production house Ramana Communications is still on the lookout for sponsors and donors. “This film resonates greatly with the times we live in. I know change is near,” says Balakrishnan.
In the film, a Gandhian society is finally established.