Gaurav Bakshi’s “Gadhavi” brings a new flavour to London Indian Film Festival during it’s world premiere at the Barbican

The 10th Edition of the London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) showcased an extraordinary social and political satire about a man who could be Mahatma Gandhi’s reincarnation, in the film strand: Film, Power & Politics at the Barbican and Cineworld Wembley, in June. It is the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi this year and director Gaurav Bakshi would really want his film Gadhvi to be commercially released to mark this milestone.

“The film has been received very well by the audiences here at the London Indian Film Festival, confirmed . “The conversations I’ve had with many of the viewers have been very gratifying and encouraging. We are in talks with a few productions houses in India and I’m hopeful that we’ll strike a deal soon,” he said.

Sanjay Mishra during the shoot

The film Gadhvi is about a retired, ordinary widower Ram Nath Gadhvi who accidentally gets involved in a social cause and suddenly becomes a social media sensation. He starts getting visions of Gandhi’s assassination and starts believing that he is the reincarnation of the Mahatma itself. In his own simple way, he starts following in Gandhi’s non-violent and pacifist principles, and finds disciples and supporters in the most unlikely people.

Gadhvi played by Sanjay Mishra, an underrated actor particularly for dramatic roles was aptly chosen by Gaurav as the lead, while . Akshay Oberoi as the hired goon Omkar and Rasika Dugal as a  prostitute played their roles very convincingly.

A scene from the film

None of the actors were made to go through auditions. Gaurav chose Sanjay Mishra after seeing his performances in films such as Aankon Dekhi and Masaan made him want to work with him and he suited this role perfectly. “I wanted a certain lightness of touch to the character and his instinctive understanding of comic timing helped even in this slightly weighty character of Gadhvi.

“Rasika Dugal and Akshay Oberoi are again very committed actors and frankly, just meeting them once and seeing them excitedly discussing the script and the nuances of their characters made me decide on casting them,” said Gaurav. “I was very confident that they were the right choice from day one.”

Rasika Dugal and Akshay Oberoi during the shoot

In the film, Omkar, the goon was hired to crush the Gadhvi’s Gandhian actions, while Rasika was planted to take care of Gadhvi and be a spy. The film plays out like a thriller where the audience is left guessing about who Gadhvi really is and if he is actually Gandhi’s reincarnation.

It’s a layered, subtle film at one level and different viewers will get things at different frequencies. There are multiple related reflections of India and the world today that the film conveys. I’d like each audience member to take away their own ‘messages’. “The people who have watched the film a second time have told me that they got an entirely fresh understanding from the one they had the first time around, which is very gratifying to me as a director,” said Gaurav.

Gaurav originally wrote the this as a short story decades back. It stayed with him and became his first short film ‘Reincarnation’ and now his debut feature film. He was always fascinated by Mahatma Gandhi and legends like Buddha and Guru Nanak, particularly as regular human beings achieving phenomenal control over their principles, minds and bodies against tremendous pressures.

A challenging topic for a commercial release

The film took a long time to get off the ground. The first draft was technically unsound Gaurav abandoned it for almost two years. “Then inspiration struck and I reworked it with fresh and fewer characters and got very positive feedback which propelled me further,” said Gaurav.

However, production houses that he approached did not bite so he decided to raise the funds myself. That took another year and a half but worked out well as the script got selected in the Sundance Drishyam Screenwriter’s Lab during that period. The lab really helped Gaurav understand the story he was trying to tell and strip the script of unnecessary flab.

Director Gaurav Bakshi at the shooting

But the challenges did not end there for him. “We had a really tight schedule due to budget constraints so there was a lot of stress and pressure on everyone. We got off to a slow start and after the first three days we were already behind schedule.

“Basically, I’d gathered too nice and well-mannered a cast and crew and they were too understanding and forgiving of each other. I felt the set was missing a villain who they could feel resentful of. So I became that. In my assessment, it worked and I feel things were more efficient subsequently,” chuckles Gaurav.