Utpal Borpujari

January 23, 2015

Unknown freedom fighter’s battle in free India catches eye at IFFI

By Utpal Borpujari

Panaji: Shah Rukh Khan’s dialogue: “Never underestimate the power of the common man” in the film “Chennai Express” might have been meant to bring in a few chuckles, but sometimes a real life common man’s resoluteness can make for memorable cinema too.

An example of this was seen at the 45th International Film Festival of India (IFFI), in the form of Ananth Narayan Mahadevan-directed “Gaur Hari Dastaan”, which was applauded for its simple-yet-touching retelling of a freedom fighter’s long struggle to get his self respect redeemed.

Screened as part of the Indian Panorama section, the film recreates the long years that Gaur Hari Das, a freedom fighter who was part of Mahatma Gandhi-inspired “Vanar Sena”in Odisha and now lives in Pune, took to fight the system to prove that he indeed fought for the country’s independence.

What makes the story interesting is that Das was not fighting his lonely battle to get a Freedom Fighter’s Pension or any such government largesse, but his battle was against an insensitive system that had put a question mark on his assertion of having been a Freedom fighter.

In real life, Gaur Hari Das, who had been jailed by the British in Odisha’s Balasore, was not even interested in getting recognized as a freedom fighter, because he firmly believed that he did not fight the British to get a freedom fighter’s “Tamrapatra”.

But when a college principal told his son, who had gone to him for admission, that he could not be given a seat under the quota for children of Freedom fighters because his father did not have any proof of being one except for a release certificate from the jail “which can be given to any criminal”, Das’ struggle began.

A true Gandhian, Das could not accept the fact that someone was questioning his truthfulness, and applied to government for a Tamrapatra. But he had never anticipated that it would take him nearly 22 years to get one, forcing him to say that it was easier to fight the British than the bureaucracy in Independent India.

This powerful story of an unknown Freedom fighter has been captured sensitively by Mahadevan, a veteran actor and director of Hindi cinema, who has extracted a very believable performance by Vinay Pathak in the title role.

“I was told that a film about an unsung hero would be more like a documentary, and that Gaur Hari Das led an uneventful life to merit a feature film. But I was drawn in by the internal conflict that he must have undergone all those years while fighting the system to acknowledge him as a freedom fighter. For me, this was something that needed to be told on the big screen, particularly as the sacrifices made by the common millions to get freedom for our country has been forgotten,” says Mahadevan. The film also stars Konkona Sen Sharma as Gaur Hari Das’ wife, along with Ranvir Shorey and Tannishtha Chatterjee.

(Published in Eastern Chronicle, http://www.easternchronicle.net; 01-12-2014)

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