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Chinmay Mandlekar on playing Nathuram Godse in Gandhi vs Godse- Ek Yudh

For me, he is the quintessential angry young man, says the actor

Priyanka Roy  Published 04.02.23, 06:21 PM
As Nathuram Godse in Gandhi Godse — Ek Yudh

As Nathuram Godse in Gandhi Godse — Ek Yudh The Telegraph

It may have been swept aside at the box office by the power of Pathaan, but Gandhi Godse — Ek Yudh that released on January 26, makes for an interesting film, looking at a ‘what if ?’ scenario where Mahatma Gandhi survives the assassination attempt on him by Nathuram Godse, pardons him and then proceeds to have a dialogue with him.

Directed by Rajkumar Santoshi — the man with films as diverse as Andaz Apna Apna and The Legend of Bhagat Singh to his credit — the film has Godse played by popular Marathi actor, writer and stage director Chinmay Mandlekar. The Telegraph caught up with Mandlekar to know more about the intriguing project, now playing in theatres.

Chinmay Mandlekar

Chinmay Mandlekar

This is quite an interesting film. What genre would you say it fits into?

When we normally talk about history in our cinema, we make them, of course, based on facts. In that sense, Gandhi Godse — Ek Yudh, as I see it, is a historical fantasy. It’s rooted in history but there is an element of ‘what if ?’ involved. We can call it parallel history or historical fantasy, and that is a genre new to Indian cinema.

What was your reaction when you were approached for the part of Nathuram Godse, which is as contentious and controversial as it gets...

First of all, I was very happy that I was being offered something that was being directed by Rajkumar Santoshi. He is a legend and working with someone like him was always a dream. So, there was very little chance of me saying ‘no’. When I heard what the film is about, I was like, ‘I have to do this’. It’s a kind of film and role that no one has ever attempted before. All this, for me, was decided within a span of 45 minutes to an hour (laughs).

I went to meet him and we chatted for about 20 minutes. He told me about the role and by the time I had left his home, I had said ‘Yes’. I was like, ‘Aap bataiye kab shuru karna hain’. It was a very fast process.

There was no apprehension at all about playing Godse?

Not really. That’s because what finally matters is what the film wants to say and what the intention behind making it is. That’s what matters to me. When I heard the entire narration, I realised that this is absolutely not controversial. This is something that is very balanced, a view which is very unique but not biased. So I said that I would be a fool if I didn’t do this film. Very honestly, I never thought, ‘Arre, controversy ho jayega, pata nahin kya ho jayega’. For me, it was a great role in a great film with a great director... and so I had to do it.

What was your approach towards playing Nathuram Godse?

For me, he is the quintessential angry young man. That’s the image of Nathuram Godse that is well known... someone who is angry at the system, someone who is angry with the people in power, someone who has a lot of resentment against what’s happening around him. When a person is angry, he loses his sense of judgment and his rationality. And that is what happened with Nathuram Godse.

The act that he did finally is something that no one can ever endorse... at least I cannot. But there is a lot of need to understand why he was angry. And that need stems from the fact that today, we don’t want a second Nathuram Godse. There should never be another person who picks up a gun and shoots someone just because he is angry. So understanding Godse and where he came from and what he was feeling and thinking was the best approach.

How does one not judge a character like Godse while playing him?

First, doing one’s research well helps. When you research your character and try and know more about him, what is imperative is not to look at him from a particular lens. or thrust your beliefs or your ideas on the character. An actor shouldn’t let his perceptions cloud a character, and also not get affected by the character... it works both ways.

Actors work a lot on empathy. That involves saying that this is the man I am playing, and to examine why he is the way he is and to ask yourself what will help you bring the truth out of that character at that particular moment.

Farooq Bitta, the character that I played in The Kashmir Files, is actually a much bigger villain than Nathuram Godse. He was a man who could just kill at will, but one also needed to seek out the truth of a character like that. That is not only important in the portrayal of the character but also in the larger scheme of things. These films don’t justify what these characters did, it’s about examining why they did what they did. That will help me tomorrow, even if I happen to play a Gabbar Singh or a Mogambo.

Identifying a common thread with characters like these then is almost next to nil...

The sense of identification never happens all the time, nor is it necessary. But empathy entails understanding more than identification. Tomorrow, if I am offered the role of a husband who is chauvinistic, I will not identify with the character but I need to understand where this man comes from. If you are lucky, you will identify with some characters, but not all the time.

Wouldn’t it have been a more sensible decision to release a film like this on a streaming platform instead of in theatres? Besides the economic aspect, this is the kind of film which is vulnerable to protest, boycott calls and violence. Mr Santoshi has also had to seek police protection in the run-up to release...

I have stopped worrying about trolls. They are faceless, nameless cowards who don’t knock on your doors. Trust me, I have faced a lot of trolling in life for various reasons. One thing that everyone associated with a film worries about is that it should never be stopped from being released.

Honestly, while we were making this film, which was shot during the pandemic, even I thought that an OTT release would be easier. But Mr Santoshi was adamant that films are meant to release in theatres only. His vision of cinema is the good old 70mm cinemascope vision. I don’t think he can ever reconcile releasing a film that people will watch on TV or mobile phones.

What made you want to be an actor?

As a kid, I watched Amitabh Bachchan in Coolie (1983) and his entry in that film is about jumping on a bridge from a train and running all the way with a falcon perched on his shoulder. And I was like, ‘This is what I want to do in life’.

So the whole larger-than-life aspect of commercial cinema is what attracted you...

Ya! That was when I was a kid. But after I studied acting and started doing it as my job, I understood that so much of it is about expression and craft. But whatever work you do as an actor, at the root of it all, and what matters the most is all those people in the cinema hall watching you. Whatever you are doing is for them.

Tomorrow, if I walk on the street and no one knows me or my work, it may completely demotivate me. So whatever anybody might say, an actor’s job is always for his audience. There are days when one just doesn’t feel like pushing oneself out of bed and going to work, but it’s the audience that forces you to do that. This is what has brought me thus far.

Would you say you are living the dream?

Part of it! (Laughs) I am very thankful to God for what I have so far. I have always wanted to work with directors like Mr Santoshi. But when I started out, I was very unsure... I didn’t know I would come this far.

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