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LIFF 2019 Movie Review: ‘#Gadhvi’

Writer-director Gaurav Bakshi’s journey with ‘#Gadhvi’ began at the 2015- 2016 Sundance-Drishyam Screenwriters lab in Udaipur with a short film called ‘Reincarnation’, alongside Nandita Das’ critically acclaimed ‘Manto’ (2018). Years later, Bakshi transformed ‘Reincarnation’ into his first feature film ‘#Gadhvi’, which he is proudly presenting on the screens of the London Indian Film Festival 2019 (LIFF).

‘#Gadhvi’ follows Ram Nath Gadhvi – a retired widower from a small town, who becomes a social media sensation after a video of him at a protest goes viral. His newfound fame is used to spread Gandhi’s messages of pacifism and non-violence in the face of injustice, which irks the establishment he is speaking up against. Desperate to bring this political voice down, the people in power send Omkar in as a spy to find evidence that could help ruin Gadhvi’s image. What Omkar finds, however, is just a delusional man who thinks he is the reincarnation of Mahatma Gandhi, surrounded by a group of followers who are unsure of whether they are worthy of the path they have joined Gadhvi on.

The film is marketed as a satire-thriller, but it falls short on both aspects. The writing is too heavy-handed with the satirical notes, almost spoon-feeding the audience at times. The story isn’t driven by characters and simply jumps along the points the film is trying to make, resulting in two-dimensional characters behaving according to the scene and not their journey. This is especially upsetting since the cast of ‘#Gadhvi’ includes fantastic actors like Sanjay Mishra, Rasika Dugal, Vivek Ghamande and Akshay Oberoi, who do their best with what they are given. Dugal’s character Laxmi – the only female character in the whole film – is particularly grating as she only exists to trigger sexual desires and do housework.

As a whole, ‘#Gadhvi’ never really pushes the envelope in terms of political critique. While the film’s heart is in the right place, every issue it raises has already been highlighted in a much effective manner through films like ‘Peepli Live’ (2010) and the ‘Munna Bhai’ franchise, to name a few. The film relies on social media for the rise of Gadhvi’s fame, but never shows how his viral status is pushing the public to fight for change. The problems of social media activism (armchair activists, slacktivism, fake news) are never mentioned, let alone explored. We see politicians fighting against Gadhvi’s influence, but we never fully understand what his impact on society is on a grander scale. But perhaps most importantly, ‘#Gadhvi’ never drives home the point it is trying to make. It asks the audience to not be resigned to their fate, to always strive to be better despite your past, but never gives a good reason why. Gadhvi’s neurotic, well-meaning character had an incredible amount of potential for a compelling story, which has been squandered in favour of rehashed preachy messages.

The world premiere of ‘#Gadhvi’ is on 21st June at LIFF 2019.

***The Bagri Foundation London Film Festival celebrates a decade in bringing the best new South Asian films to the UK, with 5 cities, 25 venues and 25 specially curated films. It starts on 20th June 2019 in London continues until 8th July 2019, at cinemas across the UK. For more on the festival, please visit:***