“Gandhi Godse: Ek Yudh” serves the Hindutva masters of new India

13 February, 2023

Rajkumar Santoshi’s Gandhi Godse: Ek Yudh presents an imagined reality in which MK Gandhi survives bullet injuries and engages in a discussion with his murderer, Nathuram Godse, in jail. Gandhi then faces a fresh murder threat, by a different set of people. Just before the imagined assassin pulls the trigger, however, Godse swiftly grabs him, spins him around and heroically saves Gandhi’s life. The film ends with Gandhi and Godse emerging from jail together and their supporters chanting for their respective icons: “Gandhiji Zindabad!” “Godseji Zindabad!”

History rarely gets such insensitive and shocking treatment in the name of creativity. Santoshi claims the film is an attempt to show a clash between two conflicting ideologies, represented by Gandhi and Godse. But, in essence, the film serves as a tool for the Hindu Right. The film makes Godse, a hardcore member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, look equal—if not superior—to Gandhi and adds to the ongoing efforts to reclaim the assassin as a patriot and an icon of new India.

This is not what the film promises when it begins. It opens with an announcement: “An incident that shook the soul of India took place in 1948. This film is an imaginary extension of that tragedy. Face-to-face are Mahatma Gandhi and Nathuram Godse, and there happens a gruesome battle of ideas. We have presented the views of the two without any partiality and with full honesty and respect.” But the promised “battle of ideas” soon gets subsumed by an imaginary murder plot that makes Godse morph into Gandhi’s saviour.

Films can use an artistic lens to view the past. But what Santoshi’s film does is ludicrous. Instead of adding depth to an ideological debate that has become perilous for the country today, fictional devices are used to ensure the heroic portrayal of an assassin. In imagining a world where Gandhi and his murderer are hailed together, the film oversimplifies the differences between the ideology of communal harmony and that of hatred.