Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s death is a long standing mystery in Indian history. Directed by Srijit Mukharjee, Gumnani Baba (2019) deals with a number of theories and commission findings and scrutinise the reports to come to a conclusion on Netaji’s demise. The journalist protagonist becomes obsessed with Netanji’s death and endeavours to unknot the fabric of mystery, writes Nasrin Humayra
DID Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose really die in the August 18, 1945 plane crash? Decade after decade, we, the Bengali people have been searching the answer. The Bengali loves adventure, thriller and mystery fictions more than any other genre of film and this October Srijit Mukherji’s Gumnaami is released to quench the thirst.
The film’s screenplay and story is written by Srijit Mukherji. The film deals with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s death secret and a number of other theories related to his death. Netaji’s death is still a mystery and this is the main theme of the film.
Produced under SVF banner it is a kind of documentary drama film which focuses on the famous Mukherjee Commission hearings where the three theories about Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s unproven death were discussed and scrutinised under light of recent findings.
An enthusiastic journalist, Chandrachur Dhar is the protagonist. He believes that s/he who wins is the conqueror. He was assigned by his editor, played by director Srijit, to write a comprehensive and complete report on the death of Netaji unknotting all the mysteries because of the formation of a new commission.
He has no particular curiosity about Netaji but as time goes by, he becomes a fact-finder about Netaji’s death mystery. He even buys a round sceptical-glass as Netaji use to wear and becomes one with Netaji as be plays the role of truth-seeker of Bose’s death.
Far along, he comes up with a third theory, followed by two other by two previous commissions, designed with the help of his group — Mission Netaji. Other two theories are — Bose dies in plane crash and another is he faces tortured in Russia and dies there. How Dhar and his group-mates try to satisfy the Mukherjee Commission about the outcomes of their research is what the film tries to depict.
Starring Prosenjit Chatterjee in the Bose’s role, the film gets Anirban Bhattacharya playing the role of a print media journalist Chandrachur Dhar and Ronita Dhar is his wife done by Tnusree Chakraborty.
Gumnaami penetrates our deep emotion. Netaji’s death and unfruitful investigation by Shahnawaz Commission in 1956, Khosla Commission in 1970 and Mukherjee Commission in 1999 played significant role in the movie. The quarries of these three commissions come time and again during the entire screen time.
The protagonist’s research team is well organised. They present arguments and counter arguments in a very scientific and organised manner. The audience of the film would have no hard time understanding the chain of actions. The film bombards the audience with information about Bose during the commission scenes but that would not bore audience for a moment.
The film starts with a talk between three famous Congress leaders of India — Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The shot’s dramatisation is very near to perfect. The shot is taken in monochrome so that audience can get a real feel in the reel. It is such a detailed scene that later the audience would find out no other scene is as detailed.
In the movie there is a good mixture of Bangla, Hindi and English language. It goes with the flow and time and is much needed for the time that Mukherji tries to capture. The director masterfully mixes and matches colour as well as black and white shots throughout the movie. This is purposefully done for understanding the time — past and present of Netaji or Gumnaami Baba.
Bose’s journey from Kolkata to Japan and the fight for Azad Hind is represented in the film with real life photos and footages of that time. The map of sub-continent with the background music and song ensures that the main story is told in a beautiful way within a short time.
Then the death theory started. The screenplay is very intelligently written. The screen play time is two hours and twenty-two minutes, in this time Mukherji manage to capture the entire dilemma that has been shrouding around Netaji’s death.
Prosenjit Chatterjee, after playing the role of Netaji, later returns as Gumnaami Baba. The makeup of Prosenjit makes him look different all together. He has changed his look a number of times for different characters and roles. His every appearance is different from each other. Prosthetic makeup is very good in the movie; Somnath Kundu, the make-up artist shows that he is very good in his work. In some scenes it is almost impossible to recognise Prosenjit as Prosenjit. He portrays Netaji as well as Gumnami baba with equal concentration and passion. Body language, dialogue delivery, expression as Bose and later Gumnami baba — Prosenjit gives his best. He acts in a very scaled, composed and measured way.
Anirban Bhattacharya’s role has been inspired from the authors of Conundrum — Chandrachur Ghose and Anuj Dhar — co-authors of the book that motivated the director. Even the protagonist’s name — Chandrachur Dhar — is a tribute to the authors. Despite Dhar’s obsession with Netaji, standing in front of Mukherjee commission he argues loudly, arrogantly and so over the top it looked very theatrical and this takes away the film far away from reality.
Chandrachur and Ronita is a regular couple but gradually she starts to loss her temper because of her husband’s escalating obsession with Netaji. The foreplay scenes between Dhar and Ronita is pointless, it only tries to establish Dhar’s recent interest in Bose. It is also true that certain erotic scene is necessary for any film to allure the audience.
Later they get divorced but still they harbour feelings for each other. The essence of love even after the divorce is also a smart capture of complexities of urban modern relationships. Despite all the problems in social, personal and professional life, Dhar keeps on seeking the truth behind Netaji’s death.
The representation of the Mukherjee Commission is very controversial here. Mukharji imposes unnecessary comedy such as talking of marijuana smoking during commission the hearing. Over dramatisation of Mukherjee commission scenes make these even more unrealistic. Nobody talks with such aggression in front of a commission.
Screen time allotment does not do justice to some crucial moments of the film. Bose’s comrades and their struggle, his own family’s sorrow and eagerness to know the truth — get less screen time. It seems like some scene should be there that’s why Mukharji just keeps several such scenes without proper attention and depth. Even Gumnaami Baba’s sensitiveness gets very short screen time. After returning to an independent country, Gumnami Baba could never claim it his own; the deep hard feeling of identity does not get enough attention.
After all, this is a Srijit Mukherji film and it gives the audiences a typical Srijit Mukherji ambiance. Dream sequence, shaky camera and drone shots, all are his signature characteristics. Therefore it is a very well researched and informative film but no new recruit in action. It deserved more time and well-structured budget.
The songs and music of this movie are worthy. Nowhere any song or music is implied forcefully rather it gives a flow to the movie. Indian films have a tendency to create a nationalistic atmosphere anywhere and everywhere possible but Gumnaami is different in this way.
Travel through history, travel through commission, travel through conflicts. From the experiment seeks the truth — this is the tagline from the trailer. This is more important that people have the right to know what actually happened with Bose.
It can be assumed easily that if India government admits the ‘supposed truth’ that Bose is Gumnami baba then their alliance, the equation of enemy and friend, politics’ nasty face will be exposed to the outside world. Many political idol of the public will lose their spiritual image from public’s heart. Admitting Bose did not die in the place crash means admitting and facing many subsequent problems and questions. Bose, who had a hard determination and mysterious soul, has always been a subject of vast attention for filmmakers and movies.
The film is not only a film but more like a cricket mach. The legendary Sachin-Sourav partnership can be compared to the Srijit-Prosenjit. The film is full of excitement and keeps the audience’s attention — what will happen in the end?
Will the commission approve the Mission Netaji’s findings or not? After that, will the government accept it? Will Bose get the justice he deserves or still we have to believe that he died in a plane crash? What actually happened to Bose?
To get these answers you have to watch the film. It may help the audience think twice about partition, politics and power politics of the sub-continent. The rating for the movies is eight out of ten.
Nasrin Humayra is a student of literature and cultural studies
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