New York Indian Film Festival 2015

May 4 - 9, 2015

Director Mahadevan, composer Subramaniam at NYIFF 'Gour Hari Dastaan' screening
May 11, 2015

Following a New York Indian Film Festival screening Friday night at Village East Cinemas, Gour Hari Dastaan—The Freedom File director Ananth Narayan Mahadevan discussed his film, described as “a heart-wrenching black comedy” biopic and about a veteran freedom fighter of the Indian independence movement who fights on patiently but steadfastly against the Indian bureaucracy for his deserved recognition.

He first thanked the audience.


“It makes a great difference to a filmmaker for a film like this, to have such a great audience,” he said. The award-winning screenwriter, actor, and director of Hindi and Marathi films and TV serials noted how Gour Hari Dastaan depicts the dichotomy of idealism and cynicism via two complementary characters, the freedom fighter Gaur Hari Dastaan (superbly played by veteran actor Vinay Pathak) and an investigative journalist who takes up his cause (Ranvir Shorey).

Then Mahadevan cited first-time screenwriter C P Surendran, a well-known and respected journalist, novelist, columnist and poet. Since the core of the film is the “symbiotic” relationship between the fighter and the journalist, Mahadevan said he didn’t want a traditional screenwriter for a film that so centrally explores the role of journalism in modern Indian culture.

Mahadevan’s impetus for tackling the true story of the freedom fighter Gaur Hari Das was an actual newspaper story—visible on screen at the end of the film, along with current black-and-white footage of the real Das himself—about Das’s 32-year effort to gain a coveted Freedom Fighter certificate necessary to authenticate his existence and enable him to receive benefits.

“No one believed in this man. They all thought he was a fraud,” said Mahadevan. “It wasn’t so much about the freedom struggle, but a man being denied the truth of a past that he lived--and the fear of that being wiped out of his life. How frightening is that?”

Mahadevan mentioned the ironies in Das’s fight for his identity—which in Gour Hari Dastaan, even his own son questions.

“He didn’t need the certificate or the money,” Mahadevan said. “The tragedy and triumph is that at the end of the day, is it a piece of paper or the truth of your identity?”

He further noted that in India today, over six decades after the end of almost two centuries of British rule, “the country does not recognize the value of freedom that was hard fought and came at a price that was bloody. A generation has not been exposed to the truth of how their houses came to be built—and the roof over their heads.”

Indeed, as Dastaan observes toward the end of the film, some things were better under the Brits, including whiskey and knowledge of “who the enemy was.”

Also at the screening was “the man behind the wonderful background score,” said Mahadevan, who then introduced Indian classical violin/composer Dr. L. Subramaniam, along with “that wonderful voice,” Subramaniam’s wife and star Bollywood playback singer Kavita Krishnamurti, who sings in the score. Subramania’s daughter Bindu, also a singer on the Gour Hari Dastaan soundtrack, and his song Ambi, also a violin virtuoso who worked on the score, were also in attendance.

Later that evening Dr. Subramaniam spoke of the score, particularly in the context of Mahatma Gandhi, whose leadership of the Indian independence movement was continually invoked in the film.

“We used two songs that were both favorites of Mahatma Gandhi,” said Subramaniam. Both, “Raghupati Raghava” and “Vaishnava Janato,” are sung by Krishnamurti.

“Bindu sings the English song ‘Right Now’ heard in a bar, and we include ‘Babul Mora Naihar Chhooto Jaye,’ a song popularized by [legendary classical vocalist] Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and sung by Kavita. It’s one of his greatest songs—and it also suits the character, since Pandit was an elderly singer, and the film’s main character had crossed 80 [years old].”

The song is also a famous lament about being exiled by the British rulers from the writer’s beloved home town.

Subrmaniam, who has previously scored such films as Mississippi Masala and Salaam Bombay, said that in scoring the film, he wanted to convey the personality of the person who fought for freedom with Gandhi in the era so specific to the film.

“I used Indian tonalities with western strings and orchestrations, so there’s a global sound reflecting both the British bureaucracy and Indian bureaucracy,” Subramaniam continued, noting that he went through Gour Hari Dastaan a number of times and sat down with Mahadevan to learn where he wanted music.

“I wanted to bring in Dastaan’s subtle character—since he believes in truth and fighting for truth--and that of his wife [played by Konkona Sen Sharma, a top actress in India’s non-mainstream Bollywood “parallel cinema”], who’s sympathetic to her husband but realizes that he may never win his battle.”


New York Indian Film Festival
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