Mahesh Manjrekar announced his next film on Nathuram Godse on Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary

Will the Godse film succeed at the box office as the one on gangster Chhota Rajan did, or will it flop like the one on Narendra Modi during the 2019 polls?

Movie poster
Movie poster

Sujata Anandan

How does the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) turn characters like Savarkar, who propagated the two-nation theory that was picked up by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse into heroes? Incessant propaganda is the key to its plans.

RSS, say the Mumbai grapevine, is now helping fund Mahesh Manjrekar, known for a series of flop biopics, to make a film on Godse. The project, to add insult to injury, was announced on Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary on October 2 this month.

Now Manjrekar cannot be faulted for accepting the assignment. He had earlier made a film Vaastav loosely based on the life of gangster Chhota Rajan, and paid for by the gangster’s brother, who was acknowledged in credits. The lead role was ironically played by Sanjay Dutt, who spent years in jail on the charge of receiving firearms from Rajan’s rival gang headed by Dawood Ibrahim.

Manjrekar must also be looking forward to the future because RSS plans to fund a lot of other films and TV serials on what it describes as lesser-known heroes of the freedom struggle. Since it has no freedom fighters in its own ranks and collaborated with the British to prevent India’s independence, it is not known whether it will pick up some freedom fighters from Congress and Communist ranks (like Bhagat Singh, for example, who it has been trying to appropriate for years without much success) or pass off K.B Hegdewar and M.S. Golwalkar as freedom fighters-- after all, they did fight very hard to prevent emergence of an egalitarian society.

Manjrekar, however, has been somewhat taken aback by the reaction to the project in Mumbai and Maharashtra itself. In an initial statement, he said his film would draw no conclusions because the makers did not want to patronise or speak against anyone. He is now believed to have sent feelers to people like Mahatma Gandhi’s great-grandson Tushar Gandhi that he would like to understand from the latter “the psyche of an assassin”. It is not clear if he would also consult Rajmohan Gandhi and Gopal Krishna Gandhi to understand the psyche of Godse’s victim, the Mahatma.

It does seem like second thoughts, a placatory move for the record. The producer of the film is Sandeep Singh, the maker of a biopic on Narendra Modi. And the producer is unlikely to allow Manjrekar any ‘creative freedom’ to cast Godse in grey.

His public stance that he merely wishes to bring a lesser-known story to viewers, he may have had no choice. Manjrekar is among one of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president Raj Thackeray’s closest friends. And the MNS, rather down in the dumps since Raj Thackeray shot himself in the foot during the 2019 Lok Sabha campaign by taking on Modi even more vigorously than either the Congress or the Nationalist Congress Party, has now come full circle. It has recently forged an alliance with the BJP for some local body polls and this is Raj Thackeray’s way of making amends and offering an olive branch to Modi.

In 2009, Manjrekar had made the Marathi film Mi Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy (I am Shivajiraje Bhosale speaking) to aid Raj Thackeray’s campaign in aid of the “Marathi manoos” who Raj said was being edged out in his own home by outsiders and migrants. The film did reasonably well and the MNS’s surprisingly good show at the election that year was attributed partly to that film.

Since then, however, MNS has gone steadily downhill, losing every seat it contested, including one by Manjrekar himself during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Both Manjrekar and Raj drew large crowds at their meetings but drew a blank at polling booths. The same story was repeated in 2019 when Raj was said to be campaigning for NCP president Sharad Pawar and got huge crowds. But then the BJP and Shiv Sena had swept the polls.

Still, Raj Thackeray being on board helps BJP in Maharashtra by silencing a formidable orator against them and now getting his glamorous friends to act and direct films on their behalf.

But will the Godse film succeed at the box office as the one on the gangster did or will it flop like the one on Narendra Modi during the 2019 polls?

While the jury is out on that one, quite a few people plan to monitor the film’s making and move the court in case it glorifies Godse and vilifies Gandhi--which, given those funding the film, it must necessarily do.

Meanwhile, it would be interesting to see how Manjrekar whitewashes Godse and justifies the killing of a frail, unarmed, bare-bodied 78-yearold by the macho 32-year old man.

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