An Odia freedom fighter’s struggle for recognition is the subject of filmmaker Ananth Mahadevan’s next project. Having made the successful Marathi movie, 'Mee Sindhutai Sapkal', that fetched him four National Awards, Mahadevan is now in the final stages of shooting for 'Gaur Hari Daastan: The Freedom File', based on Odia freedom fighter, Gaur Hari Das.
Das, now in his late 80s, of Balasore, Odisha, was just 14 when he was jailed for hoisting the Tricolour despite a ban in 1945. In 1989, he migrated to Mumbai (then Bombay) to work as a consultant in the Khadi Commission Board. There, he had to apply for the freedom fighter certificate as his son wanted to pursue engineering at Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute. There began Das’s struggle for the certificate that continued for 20 years. He got the certificate only last year.
Mahadevan says he read about Das’s struggle in a Mumbai tabloid and was touched by the irony of his travails. “The ignominy of fighting for recognition and a freedom fighter’s certificate was a mirror of what the nation was doing to its founding fathers. The film is as much a political statement as it is a moving human story,” he says.
After reading the article, Ananth met up with Das, who was amused to know why he wanted to make a film on him. “Later, he reconciled to the fact after watching Mee Sindhutai Sapkal. Then began sessions of discussions, and reminiscences. Of course all that would have made a five-hour epic, so I and my writer C P Surendran had to filter the essentials and concentrate on his fight for identity,” says Mahadevan.
The freedom fighter also gave the director a voluminous file of letters that he had written to the government departments and their replies. He called it the ‘Freedom File’, which was later incorporated into the title.
While Vinay Pathak plays Das’s role, Konkana Sen Sharma, who is making a comeback with this film, portrays the role of his wife Lakshmi. Even as Bollywood has a habit of typecasting actors and Pathak is a victim of his own funny man image, Mahadevan says behind the comic facade, Pathak is a thinking actor waiting to emerge. Konkona was an “obvious choice” for Mahadevan. “Both Vinay and Konkona make the most unlikely couple but they look every inch of it on screen,” he says.
On challenges that emerged while making the movie, Mahadevan says: “When one undertakes a biopic and that too on a living person, compromises are out. The film takes on a realistic tone and yet veers away from a documentary. Mee Sindhutai Sapkal was a lesson for me in converting a near-documentary into a dramatic feature and I employed the elements in Gour Hari Dastaan too. Above all, I did not want the film to be a dry account of an individual’s fight. Surendran and I made sure the writing dripped with an acid satire.” The filmmaker says Gour Hari Dastaan should be complete by October, in time for a Sundance/Berlin or even a possible Cannes premiere. It will be released in theatres in 2013.
Mee Sindhutai Sapkal reinstated the faith of my producers Sachin and Bindiya Khanolkar in cinema of substance and that prompted them to back another biopic. “We see this movie going a notch higher than Mee Sindhutai Sapkal. It is also the first film that doesn’t lampoon the British. The vitriolic nature of the film should see it spread its reach beyond Indian boundaries and emerge as truly global cinema,” Ananth says.