Fiction as history and history honestly portrayed: a tale of two films and a documentary

In India today, fiction is being peddled as history. What’s tragic is that most Indians are falling for such propaganda. There has been a spate of motivated films financed and promoted by the Sangh Parivar, starting with the ‘Kashmir Files’ to the latest ‘Swatantra Veer Savarkar’.

The Sangh, since Independence, has carried out a campaign of lies and half-truths blended expertly. In recent times, it has run a campaign against those they demonise as ‘left liberal historians’ and has succeeded beyond its own expectations in making several Indians accept its propaganda as the truth. They have convinced even highly ‘educated’ Indians – especially professionals such as engineers and doctors – into accepting their lies.

Their pathological hatred of MK Gandhi, who I and countless others call ‘Bapu’, and their desperation to justify his murder, saw them unleash a vicious campaign – from mixing up the Mopla Rebellion in the Malabar to Bapu’s championing of the Khilafat Movement and calling it the beginning of the appeasement of Muslims. They blame him for Partition and accuse him of forcing the government to ‘gift’ Rs 55 crore to Pakistan – blatant lies cleverly mixed with half-truths and fed to the gullible.

It’s understandable that they are desperate to justify Bapu’s murder. When their involvement in his murder was revealed, they had to portray themselves as saviours of Hindus. Many leaders have built their political careers by maligning Bapu and glorifying his murderer. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself is part of the Sangh, which is sympathetic to Bapu’s killer Nathuram Godse. Modi’s pretended devotion to Bapu is to gain credibility abroad, but it’s a sham.

Bapu, after all, is a soft target and the only thing his followers, ‘Gandhians’, have imbibed from him is to passively turn the other cheek.

The cultural offensive

Several books maligning Bapu have been published and widely circulated by the Sangh. The government banned the circulation of Godse’s statement in court and the book published by co-accused and his brother Gopal Godse, 55 Koticha Bali in Marathi and ‘May It Please Your Honour’ in English. A statement read in court by Godse, clearly written by his guru Vinayak Savarkar while they were incarcerated in the Red Fort, was circulated by the Sangh and illegal copies of the book were widely available among Sanghis.

Having emerged from their burrows and grabbed power, they have created a coterie of ‘historians’ who write a convenient version of history with fiction and myth freely mixed in. The Sangh then legitimises such ‘history’ and uses it as propaganda.

Initially, plays were written and performed in Maharashtra, such as ‘Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoy’. Actor Sharad Ponkshe made such a successful career portraying Godse that he now passes himself off as Bapu’s murderer and is venerated by the Hindutva hordes.

A spate of films has been made on Bapu and Godse, most of them so atrocious that they bombed at the box office. Rajkumar Santoshi’s ‘Gandhi Godse Ek Yudh’ is a glaring example.

The Sangh has now reaped the monetary benefits of its political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), being in power for two terms. It backs propaganda films, the most recent being Randeep Hooda’s ‘Swatantra Veer Savarkar’. The lies begin in the title itself. An apologist of our freedom movement is being shamelessly placed among the ranks of martyrs like Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, Shaheed Chandra Shekhar Azad and Shaheed Ashfaqullah Khan. Savarkar gave himself the title ‘Veer’, which makes the title of the film laughable.

Savarkar was no ‘Veer’

Unfortunately, many Indians believe the blatant lie that Savarkar was a ‘Veer’ and forget his centrality to the Gandhi assassination. The court acquitted him because the prosecution did not submit adequate evidence but it did not declare him innocent. The Kapur Commission proved Savarkar’s role beyond doubt and said that an organisation with a nationwide network of fanatics – whose members had deeply infiltrated the government, the bureaucracy and the police – was actively involved in the murder. At that time, there was only one organisation fitting the bill – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Never mind the fact that the RSS was never prosecuted. Godse and Narayan Apte paid for their crime with their lives, but the kingpins escaped.

What brands Savarkar as a cowardly collaborator are not only his apologies and his multiple mercy petitions to the British but, after he secured his release from kala paani, how loyal he remained to the British, living off the pension provided by the colonial government. Many political prisoners in the Andaman Islands suffered much more brutal torture than Savarkar did, but they endured it and did not become British stooges.

The torture Savarkar was subjected to was also a myth created by him. The British knew how easy it would be to break him and succeeded spectacularly. So much so that after the provincial Congress government of the Bombay Presidency released him from house arrest in Ratnagiri, not once did Savarkar support the freedom movement. All he did was spew communal venom and loyally serve the British.

Savarkar openly advocated the boycott of the Quit India Movement, calling upon his supporters to subvert it. While Bapu and the Congress refused to support the British during World War II, Savarkar called upon his team to actively recruit soldiers – even when he knew that the British would use them to fight Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army. So much for ‘Swatantra Veer’.

Mahesh Manjrekar, who was initially the director of Hooda’s film, received well-deserved criticism when he announced the project. But he left the project soon after, alleging falsification of history.

Hooda’s film claims Savarkar inspired Bhagat Singh; even thick-skinned Sanghis would have been embarrassed by this fiction.

Hooda also claimed that, had Savarkar had his way, India would have gained Independence three decades earlier and blamed Bapu for the delay. India got its freedom in 1947; three decades earlier would mean 1917. Bapu had just launched his first agitation in India, the Champaran Satyagraha, and Savarkar had already made several mercy petitions to the British. So, in 1917, Bapu had a negligible influence on our freedom movement and Savarkar had already embarked on becoming the British’s loyal servant. He would not have worked for freedom.

To a motivated falsifier of facts, however, such details don’t matter. Hooda has loyally completed a task assigned to him – add fuel to the inferno of hate and aim vitriol at Bapu. He will be handsomely rewarded for his service.

The silver lining on the silver screen

There is hope. I end by talking about two films, one a documentary made by a Canadian-India director and my friend Anand Ramayya – ‘Who Killed Gandhi?’ (2013). It is a balanced documentary that throws light on the Gandhi murder conspiracy through the lives of the three main characters: Bapu, Savarkar and Godse. Unfortunately, because of the regime change in 2014, the documentary hasn’t found a theatrical or OTT release in India. It has, however, had several screenings abroad and won awards too.

The other film I admire is ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan’, directed by Kannan Iyer and written by him and Darab Farooqui. This is how historical films should be made – not by incorporating fiction, twisting facts or adding melodrama but by telling the story simply and honestly. There may be creative and technical criticism but no one can fault the honesty of the filmmakers. Personally, I would have loved more drama to bring out the heroism of common Indians who made great sacrifices during the Quit India Movement but I doff my hat to the writer and director for not deviating from the facts.

I admired the cast as well; Sara Ali Khan portrayed admirably someone she had never seen. It is easy to portray a fictitious character but intimidating to portray someone whom many in the present have interacted with and you haven’t. For me, Khan brought Ushaben Mehta – Gandhian and freedom fighter – alive on screen. Emraan Hashmi portrayed Ram Manohar Lohia convincingly, putting aside his stardom to get into the character of an icon. This, too, isn’t easy.

The other actors too did justice to the characters they portrayed; no one played to the gallery. That was left to the story, a tale of valour told honestly.

This is the difference between propaganda and history, the former is devoid of truth, the later needs no embellishment. I wish we had an audience that was enlightened enough to know the difference.

 Tushar Gandhi, great grandson of the Mahatma, is an activist, author and president of the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation. Reach him at




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