Gandhi's political and spiritual life has been the subject of countless books, documentaries and feature films, but very few have examined the personal history the Mahatma shared with his own family. Writer/director Feroz Abbas Khan does just that in Gandhi My Father, a bold melodrama that highlights Gandhi's tumultuous relationship with his eldest son. Akshaye Khanna takes on the role of the troublesome offspring, who rebels against his father's aspirations only to suffer at the hands of the very society he tried to liberate.
As the spiritual father of the Indian nation, Gandhi (Darshan Jariwalla) could do no wrong. But as a patriarch in his own household he was far from perfect. Deterring his son Hiralal (Khanna) from following in his footsteps to become a barrister, he instead pushes him towards serving humanity. Robbed of a formal education, self confidence and the chance to live with his own family, Hiralal turns to alcohol, and is inevitably used as a pawn by his father's enemies. Hiralal's personal struggle for independence as an analogy for India's fight against the British Empire may be obvious, but it's actually the recurring drunken make-up and break ups with his father that stunt the story.
The notion that Gandhi managed to save the soul of a nation, but failed to save the soul of his own son is attention-grabbing, and this is particularly due to the lack of exposure their troubled association has had. But somehow Jariwalla and Khanna's competent performances, and Khan's simplistic screenplay fail to grip and elevate this from an average to an exceptional piece of cinema. Attenborough and Kingsley can rest easy.
Gandhi My Father is out in the UK on 3rd August 2007.