A little over a month back, it was the 150th birthday of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and the man, who came remotely close to carrying out the task of executing Gandhi, turned 19. We are referring ofcourse to Saketh Ram, the confused fictional protagonist of Hey Ram, written and directed by Kamal Haasan. The almost wailing voice of Kamal in the song ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’ reverberated off the walls of Sathyam Cinemas, where a special screening of the film was arranged by Raaj Kamal Films International, with a singular purpose: to recall a dark chapter of India’s history and to celebrate the man who introduced ahimsa to the world on first week of last November. While it is the 20th year since this movie was released, one can’t help but be amazed at how relevant it is even today.
The film is about Saket Ram, an archaeologist, a victim of Bengal riots, who plans to kill Gandhi as he considers Gandhi to be the reason behind all the bloodshed and mass-murders. But, after a few encounters with the Mahatma, the hero changes his mind and pleads for forgiveness. Eventually, Gandhi is killed by Godse, and Saket Ram walks on the path of Ahimsa for the rest of his life. The film has many instances where it takes a dig at Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Mahatma himself. In a scene, protesters force Jinnah to take responsibility for the killings that happened in Bengal, and when he does, the people march back satisfied. Saket Ram, who is one among the protesters, is baffled at the people’s forgetfulness.
All said and done, the film still was a big flop at the box office. The main reason could be the length of the film: three-and-half hours. There were several cuts made after the release, which heavily dented the flow, and the film turned out to be confusing. Another important reason for the film’s failure is the non-linear narration, which was a pretty new technique in that era of filmmaking.
Kamal Haasan revealed some anecdotes about the making of Hey Ram, which was the centre of several controversies back in 2000. The film follows the journey of Saket Ram, who tries to kill Mohandas Gandhi. Hey Ram is based on the partition of India and the consequences it had on people. Kamal remarked that ‘finding Gandhi was a personal journey,’ and added, “I’m nobody’s bhakt. There was so much halo around him, so I wanted to see the face behind it and I did find it. When I saw the photos of Gandhi and Nehru talking, I seriously wished I was there”.
While the film was selected by India as its submission to the Oscars, it failed to reach the final list of nominees. Though there were several protests by various political parties for portraying Gandhi in negative lights, the film still managed to bag numerous accolades including Best Supporting Actor for Atul Kulkarni, Best Costume Design for Sarika and Manthra won the Best Special Effects. Kamal Hassan also won the Best Actor award.