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By Behindwoods Visitor Anandh Ramesh
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There are few people the whole world recognize as leaders and role models, and seldom show in grey light. People like Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, MotherTeresa, Martin Luther King, George Washington, etc. are a few people who people cannever imagine in other shades. However, it is not to be forgotten that great leaders were assassinated precisely because a group of people chose to see them in a different light.May it be Abraham Lincoln or Mahatma Gandhi, their visions of their respective societiesdid not agree with a few groups, and they saw these leaders as the reason their lives were disrupted. The lives of these assassins haven't been chronicled in great detail, and the few existing collections are not made very visible to the reading / viewing public.
I remember asking my teachers in kindergarten when they taught us moral stories, "Did anyone ask the fox why he wanted the food in the crow's mouth?" and not receiving ananswer. So, I was naturally surprised when I read rumors about Kamal Hassan's "Hey Ram"during my high school days that the film chronicled the life of Nathuram Godse, the killer of Mahatma Gandhi. I was eagerly waiting for a chance to see the film, and was amazedby the way the film unfolded through the eyes of Saket Ram, a would-be assassin of Gandhi. Not many people in the cinema hall shared my awe, and I learned later from the news papers that the film failed in the box office and was termed a flop. As the world eagerly awaits Viswaroopam, I felt it was time I paid my tribute to this classic.
As for the story of the film, it is the journey of a victim who realizes that he has been accusing the wrong person too late. The film is set in the 1946-1948 period and is seen through the eyes of Saket Ram - an archaeologist who is involved in the excavations of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa in the early 1940's with his friend Amjad Khan under Mortimer Wheeler. They are forced to abandon camp as the British expect communal riots due to Mohammed Ali Jinnah's "Direct Action". Saket Ram returns to Calcutta where his wife Aparna gets brutally gang-raped and murdered by a fanatic Muslim group with Saket tied to the piano and helpless. In a fit of rage, Saket hunts them down the same night as do countless fanatics of both religions hunt each other. The next morning as he prepares to turn himself in for his crimes, Saket meets Sriram Abhyankar, a Hindu activist who he ran into the previous night, albeit briefly. Abhyankar believes the Muslims are guilty and that Gandhi is morally responsible for these murders in the name of religion through his demands of peaceful coexistence. Abhyankar leads Saket to believe that his murders are justified and accuses Gandhi of being anti-Hindu. However, he gets caught by the police as he tries to evade them. Saket, on the other hand, wants to rid himself of all the unpleasant memories and heads back to Madras where his uncle and aunt force him to get re-married.
Hence, Saket weds Mythili, but is still haunted by his murderous deeds and the memories of his first wife. In a few days, he returns to Calcutta and meets Abhyankar again. Only this time, it is after a brief run-in with Gandhi himself and on the night of India's independence and the partition, exactly a year after the tragic incidents that took his wife from him. Gandhi and Suhrawardi (the Bengal premiere) take moral responsibility for the massacre in Calcutta which consumed Saket's wife. As the public applaud Suhrawardi's owning up, Saket walks out a troubled man with mixed feelings. At this juncture, Abhyankar reappears in his life and uses this troubled mind to turn him to their own ideology against Gandhi.Saket returns to Madras and flies with Mythili to Maharashtra to meet Abhyankar and a Maharaja who supports their ideology. In Maharashtra, Saket chances upon Lalwani - an old friend from Karachi who has also suffered at the cruel hands of fate. The Maharaja takes Lalwani in and gets him a new footing in life. As Saket starts realizing he can put his past behind him and start afresh with Mythili, the Maharaja declares that Gandhi must be killed as a sign of their protest against Gandhi's anti-Hindu acts. The task of assassinating Gandhi falls on Saket and Abhyankar. To make things worse, Abhyankar becomes quadriplegic as a horse falls on top of him during a polo match. This transfers the responsibility of killing Gandhi entirely on Saket's shoulders. Saket realizes the enormity of the task and decides to take it up. But once he is back in Madras, he finds out that Mythili is pregnant. Saket decides to renounce all worldly ties before taking up the task of assassinating Gandhi, and he flees to Varanasi, explaining in a letter to Mythili that he is leaving her to serve the country. He takes Sanyasa in Varanasi and comes to Delhi to make the preparations for the murder. In Delhi, Saket bears witness as an attempt on Gandhi's life goes wrong during an explosion. The investigation that follows causes Saket to lose his weapon in a truck. The search for his weapon leads him to Amjad, who is now back in India and lives in a colony inhabited by Muslims. They mistake him for an activist who is out to kill them on account of his weapon. A small riot of sorts follows, as a scuffle leads to twin murders. A fleeing Saket is aided my Amjad when he tries to make Saket understand that the idea of killing Gandhi is wrong, and Gandhi has been striving for communal harmony.Saket slowly starts realizing that the fault is on both sides, when the actual Hindu activists join in and injure Amjad fatally. This turn of events forces Saket to turn on the Hindus and defend the Muslims in the gunfire that ensues. A lot of bodies litter the area as both parties kill indiscriminately. When the police find them, Saket is transformed into a Hindu hero who tried to defend the Muslims. Amjad breathes his last in the hospital not divulging the identity of the man who started all this, namely Saket himself. Saket's acts defending the Muslims get him an audience with Gandhi, which starts altering the opinion he had formed initially. As he finds himself at fault for being misled by Abhyankar and the Maharaja, Saket decides to confide in Gandhi the next time he meets him and surrender his weapon. Gandhi seems to be in a rush to the prayer hall and tells Saket that they can talk all they want during their walk to Pakistan which Saket had promised to take with Gandhi in Amjad's stead. As Saket sees Gandhi walk off to the prayer hall, he also sees an eager young man confront Gandhi, seem to touch his feet, draw a pistol and shoot Gandhi thrice. Saket takes Gandhi's footwear and eyeglasses in his memory. All these incidents are interspersed with the present day when a 90-year old Saket is mortally ill and is being rushed to the hospital by his grandson and his doctor in an ambulance on December 6 - the day of the Babri Masjid demolition. The streets are filled with policemen who try to control communal riots. Saket is lowered into a ditch following an incident of violence in that area. He asks the nurse what the problem is and on hearing it is communal violence, Saket breathes his last saying, "still?" Saket's funeral is attended by Gandhi's great grandson, to whom Saket's grandson returns Gandhi's last possessions in Saket's room which is now filled with memories and a floor-to-ceiling portrait of Gandhi.
This film leaves an impact primarily due to its immaculate casting. The cast which comprises of Kamal Hassan, Shahrukh Khan, Rani Mukherjee, Atul Kulkarni, Hemamalini,Girish Karnad, Om Puri, Saurabh Shukla, Vasundara Das, Vaali, VS Raghavan, SowkarJanaki, Nasser, Abbas and an amazing performance by Naseeruddin Shah as Gandhi deliver what can only be termed as performances of their lifetime even in minuscule roles.Extra care has been taken to ensure that the cast can relate to the characters they play onscreen by choosing people with comparable backgrounds. The artists fit their roles to the Tand do complete justice to them, including dubbing for their characters in live sound. Thetechnical departments of camera, costume design and art direction deserve very specialmention here for the care they have taken in procuring the pre-independence artifacts andconjuring the pre-independence cities, not to mention miniatures of locales like Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. Music by the maestro Ilayaraja was the perfect icing on the cake for thisfilm. Taking over the mantle from violinist L.Subramaniam mid-way through the project, themaestro delivered a scintillating score for the film - one of very few films in India to use theBudapest Symphony Orchestra for its music. The songs in the film fit the situations like aglove, and accentuated the moods in the film immensely. The script by Kamalhassan isparticularly hard-hitting and lends absolute credibility with its multi-lingual treatment and thesubtleties. Come to think of it, the very title "Hey Ram" can be interpreted as a pun. Thephrase has come to be associated with Gandhi for the past several decades, but KamalHassan does not put the words in Gandhi's mouth at all. Instead, he names his leadcharacters Ram - Saket Ram and Sriram Abhyankar - and the title suddenly transforms tothe calling each of these Rams faced internally, and the transformation of Saket Ram. Infact, the clever usage of "Hey Ram" from the dying lips of Saket's aunt, who raised Saketsince his mother's passing when he was a child, is a wonderful directorial touch where thedirector has equated every selfless human to a Mahatma. Another brilliant usage of "DeiRama" from a blind Muslim girl whose grandfather is killed by Saket is a masterstroke fromthe director as these words continue to haunt Saket at every stage and becomes a catalystin his transformation. Even the final touch where the dying Saket is protected by apoliceman named Ibrahim is a very subtle way of sending a strong message across thatIndia wants to stand united. From the cinematographic department, the use of a washed outsepia tone for the past and black-and-white for the present day shots was a revelation ofsorts and worked out impeccably for the script. Thiru's camera was mind-blowing andreflected the mind of Saket Ram in every frame. More than anything, it takes sheer guts totake such an icon as Gandhi and state that there are absolutely plausible scenarios wherehe could be misconstrued as an evil to the society. Hats off to Kamal Hassan for his daring,even in the all-demanding assassination scene where he deliberately did not put thewords "Hey Ram" in Gandhi's mouth in spite of naming his film so and showing Gandhi takethe impact of the bullets by literally being lifted off his feet before hitting the ground. It takesa stroke of genius to weave fact and fiction so seamlessly, and Kamal Hassan pulled it off
I have seen the film at least a few hundred times now, and every time I see it, I findsomething new in it that I did not notice earlier. Hey Ram has not ceased to amaze me -not yet, at least. However these subtleties were also, rather unfortunately, reasons for thefilm's failure. The audiences were unable to understand the British English, Bengali, Marathiand Hindi in what was termed a Tamil film - not in a time when they expected even a non-Indian terrorist to speak chaste Tamil in a Tamil film. Also the negative publicity it got beforeits release, claiming it was anti-Gandhian, was a big reason for the film's commercial failure.Left to me, this movie was as pro-Gandhian as any movie could be.
Today, when I see trailers of movies like "Abraham Lincoln - Vampire Hunter" and seepeople eagerly waiting for the release of a film which portrays Abraham Lincoln as a personwho sought out vampires and hunted them, I can only feel sorry for Mr. Kamal Hassan forbeing so ahead of his times.

Anandh Ramesh

Tags :Hey Ram,Kamal Haasan,Rani Mukherji,Shah Rukh Khan,Nasseruddin Shah

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