‘Swatantrya Veer Savarkar’ : A Polarizing but Powerful Biopic

By Renuka Vyavahare

Story: Was Savarkar a devout patriot or a bomb golavala who incited violence? Accused and acquitted of multiple conspiracy theories which includes Gandhi’s assassination, the biopic takes a closer look at the fiery freedom fighter and his tumultuous life.

Review: Vinayak Damodar Savarkar aka Swatantrya Veer Savarkar has been a controversial figure in India’s freedom struggle, given his unequivocal allegiance to armed revolution, notwithstanding the consequences. The revolutionary endured years of torture in the cellular jail. He paid a hefty price for his ideology by being dragged in the centre of a political storm ever since.

Hailed by some for his bravery and humiliated by others for his mercy petitions to the British, the film makes him feel heard and seen. His formation of ‘Hindutva’ prioritised country over religion, condemned casteism, social hierarchy, superstition, and inequality. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. One man’s hero is another man’s villain. Every truth has two sides. Randeep Hooda’s biopic on Savarkar, doesn’t flinch while speaking its truth, hoping to reinstate the dignity and respect, that the writer-freedom fighter was stripped off over the years.

Spanning decades, right from pre to post independence, the film understands the key events of Savarkar’s life without rushing through it. Contribution of his family in the freedom struggle, formation of secret society Abhinav Bharat, activities at India House, belief in the teachings and mindset of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, differences with Gandhi and absolute hatred for slavery, injustice, and oppression, this one’s all encompassing. Given the sheer magnitude of the story, this was a tough one to crack but first-time director, Randeep Hooda, who also plays the titular role makes this a compelling watch.

Tense, engaging and unsettling, the film does more than presenting a recap of historical events. It delves into the psyche, morals, and implications of it all. Nothing is surface level. Each frame has a story to tell. Barring one song that plays in the background in the second half, no time is wasted in music to get the patriot in you going. The dialogues get your blood pumping. The film is technically sound and transportive. It doesn’t exploit or glorify Savarkar’s ordeal at the Kaalapani (solitary confinement) but weaponises it. Some scenes stay with you like the interactions between Gandhi and Savarkar. The clash of ideologies never led to disrespect.

What sticks out as a sore thumb in an otherwise well-made film is the blatant vilification of the Indian National Congress and Gandhi as a minority and British sympathiser. The film doesn’t propagate violence though. It wants you to merely acknowledge the sacrifices of armed revolutionaries which are often overlooked because ‘ahimsa’ paved the way to freedom.

Interestingly, Hooda’s massive physical transformation is just the tip of the iceberg. He presents Savarkar as both heroic, and helpless, and someone who fought till the end despite the inhuman atrocities inflicted upon him. While Gandhi was hailed as a Mahatma, Savarkar was compelled to wonder if the himsa (violence) he supported for justice and Swatantrata (freedom) led to sarvanash (destruction) instead. This one’s a polarising but powerful biopic that attempts to vindicate Savarkar. It tells his side of the story.