GUMNAAMI (2019)

  • Release Date: 02/10/2019
  • Cast: Prosenjit Chatterjee, Anirban Bhattacharya, Tanusree Chakraborty, Biplab Dasgupta, Shyamal Chakraborty
  • Director: Srijit Mukherji

Anuj Dhar made it his life’s work to uncover the secrets surrounding the death of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and his life after the alleged plane crash. He believed that Netaji didn’t die in that fateful plane crash as was the popular belief and that he had escaped to Russia staging his own death as he knew that the British would be coming for him after the fall of Japan to Allied Forces. Dhar with his associate Chandrachur Ghose received vehement opposition to this theory from varied power centres that were rocked by their claims. But they provided enough proof and testimonials to finally oust the theory of Netaji’s death in the plane crash and prove that he had not died then.

However, that was not all that they claimed. According to Dhar, Netaji had come back to India and lived here till 1985 in the guise of a hermit known as Gumnaami Baba. Gumnaami is a film chronicling the Mukherjee commission hearings, the testimonies of Dhar and Ghose and what was the outcome of it all. The film also tries to peek behind the scenes of these investigations conducted by the duo to find out how it affected their personal lives.

Srijit Mukherjee conjures the character of Chandrachur Dhar (a mishmash of Anuj and Chandrachur) and it is through his eyes that we see the trial unfold. We are also made privy to the bits and pieces of the information of how they conducted their investigation and what sacrifices they had to make for it. Overlapping this story is the visual representation of what Chandrachur Dhar is digging out. We get to see Subhash Chandra Bose (Prosenjit) do things in the past exactly the way Chandrachur presents them in front of the commission. There is a Rashomon-like feel to this whole track as we same events played out in different ways depending upon the version of the story that we are watching then. I must agree that this was a good idea as it really gave Srijit enough room to use Prosenjit’s acting prowess, the inspiring gusto of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s character and the indelible charm of a period setting to his advantage. 

When I look at Gumnaami, I see two facets on which I must point my critics individually. The first facet is the story of the Mukherjee Commission, the investigation on Netaji and beyond by Dhar and Ghose and what they had to go through to bring the truth in front of everyone. This is a story that has enough meat to make a trilogy and it is ripe with surprises, twists, drama and emotional weight. Srijit speaks to us through the protagonist Chandrachur Ghose (Anirban Bhattacharya) who we see as a sceptic of Netaji to start with. As the story progresses and he is tasked to find out more about the man for an assignment, he is gradually consumed by the idea of Netaji and how a man of this stature and selflessness could have the kind of end that he was believed to have had. Gradually he loses his family life and the search for Netaji’s truth becomes his only truth. Srijit excels in putting out the investigation in a believable manner but the rendition of Chandrachur Dhar was sometimes a tad bit overdramatic.

I believe that no matter how enamoured the man was about Netaji, what we see him do is certainly pulling the fabric of believability a bit too far. He could do very well what he did without being such a cry baby and overdramatizing his struggle for the truth. There is a scene where Chandrachur goes to his editor and wants to resign from his job. This scene really surprised me. The way his relationship with his wife ends is another sham. The way he is shown growing a beard and obsessing about the man was too much for me to fathom. Whether or not it was the case with Anuj Dhar and Chandrachur Ghose is debatable. It was more difficult to accept such a rendering as we have all seen the real Anuj Dhar and he seems like a really level headed and articulate individual. Srijit could have easily worked around these theatrics and given us a man who was let’s say a little more like Ray’s Feluda with his trademark “dadagiri”. This would have not only made the character a lot more entertaining but also laudable. 

However, my views on this portion don’t take away anything from the brilliant performance of Anirban Bhattacharya who has been undone in parts by the poor choices made by the director. In the penultimate scene of the film, Chandrachur tries to do something unbelievable and it is only Anirban’s performance that makes us feel the pain and angst of the man that brought him to the brink of doing something like that. He constantly keeps up with the over the top tone of his character and is still likable for almost the entirety of his act. The credit for that must go to Anirban and his charm that makes some of the hammy sequences tolerable. He gets able support from Tanusree Chakraborty who plays his wife. She isn’t there for too long but whenever they share the screen, sparks fly.

The second facet of the film is about the flashbacks involving Netaji where we see Prosenjit Chatterjee essay the character. This portion is made up of some of the facts that are well known and some conjured up from the theories presented to the Mukherjee Commission. The three possibilities of what happened to Netaji are laid out in this portion and we are left to make up our own minds about what we want to believe in. I loved these portions of the film. The reasons for that are two. One: these are the parts that are dealt with a lot of subtlety and two: Prosenjit’s stellar act behind a layer of makeup and prosthetics. 

Prosenjit’s version of Netaji is so poised and real that it is hard not to revel in his accomplishments. He as the Gumnaami Baba makes as much impact as he does as Netaji and that is what makes Prosenjit’s act so good. Even when he is shown sitting and discussing things with other characters he grasps your attention and that happens only because of how he enacts the character. There is a sequence when he sings the anthem of the Provincial Government of Free India with the soldiers of the Indian National Army that gave me goosebumps. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Prosenjit is the heart and soul of the film and he does complete justice to the role.    

My issues with Gumnaami were the overtly dramatic overtones that the character of Chandrachur Dhar was burdened with. The editing could have been better in a few sequences too like the one in which a lot of Japanese is spoken without any subtitles and the camera remains fixed on the Japanese soldier’s faces. The transitions between the hearings and the events in the flashbacks could have been better thought-out. The camera is allowed to linger on trivial details which I believe should have been edited out making for a crispier edit. The visual effects have always been one of the problems with Srijit Mukherjee films and that is the case here again. It does take you out of the experience at moments. Prosenjit’s makeup and prosthetics could have been better. 

Gumnaami is a film that deals with one of the greatest mysteries of the country and had the potential to be a cracking thriller. It shows the brilliance and the art of its director in moments when we are in the flashbacks. I wanted to love this film and did for most of the parts but the issues mentioned above did linger in my mind as I finished my viewing. Srijit Mukherjee still has to be applauded for making a film like this against all odds. He may have gone wrong here and there but his heart was in the right place and it resulted in an entertaining, uplifting and relevant film that is absolutely necessary viewing for the new generation.

Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)            

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