I am the villain in Anna Hazare biopic: Govind Namdeo

The veteran speaks about his film Anna, his role as Morarji Desai in Solar Eclipse, and the man who gave him his first break, Pahlaj Nihalani.

Keyur Seta

It’s raining biopics in Hindi cinema. The latest is a film on social worker and anti-corruption crusader Kisan 'Anna' Hazare. Shashank Udapurkar will essay the titular role and direct the film titled – what else? – Anna. The film also stars veteran actor Govind Namdeo in an important role. 

“I am playing the villain," Namdeo said in an exclusive chat with "When Anna resigns from the army and returns to Ralegan Siddhi, he finds a huge difference in his village. A landlord, played by me, has captured the farmers’ properties and made them slaves. He has also created havoc through his business of illicit liquor. Anna comes into direct confrontation with him. Anna sensitizes the villagers on how they can progress and they too stand up with him.”

Namdeo said the film will focus on Hazare’s inspirational life. “It will show how a man from a small village became a national hero through his honesty, truthfulness, and intolerance towards injustice. The film also has a message for today’s generation, that success shouldn’t be measured in a materialistic way.” 

Hazare is known all over India now for his anti-corruption movement in 2011, from which emerged the Aam Aadmi Party of Arvind Kejriwal. But since the movement was against a specific political party, is the film's crew expecting any controversies?

“Why will there be any controversy?" replied Namdeo. "Everybody knows about the movement. The aandolan wasn’t against any party. It was for the cause of anti-corruption. No matter which party comes into power, this cause will always stay. I don’t see any scope for controversy.” 

Namdeo is also starring in an international production called Solar Eclipse, in which he plays former prime minister of India Morarji Desai. “The film touches on the incident of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination," he said. "As the conspiracy to kill Gandhi took place in Mumbai, Desai was laden with a major responsibility as he was Mumbai state’s home minister then. We chalked out three levels of the character. One is his emotional bonding with Gandhi. When Gandhi is assassinated, he emotionally orders the police to take action.

“The second is his authoritative nature. We know Desai as a polite person. But in 1948, he was very authoritative. There was a lot of communal disharmony between Hindus and Muslims then. It seemed as if the country won’t stand on its feet again. His concern and worry about the country is the third level of the character.”

Interestingly, Namdeo had made his Hindi film debut with Pahlaj Nihalani’s Shola Aur Shabnam (1992). Since there is a growing demand today to remove Nihalani as chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), popularly called the censor board, we could not resist asking Namdeo about this.

“I am nobody to say whether he should be removed,” he responded. Referring to the recent certification controversies, particularly with Udta Punjab, he said, “I feel there is some confusion with the guidelines. Each film should be looked at individually. If you remove ‘Punjab’ from Udta Punjab, it won’t make any sense since it deals with the issue of drug addiction in Punjab, which is a reality.”

He cited the example of his own film, Bandit Queen (1994). “After watching the film, you realize that if Phoolan Devi doesn’t verbally abuse, her character won’t be justified. It was passed. But in today’s times, it won’t be.” 

Namdeo has a series of films lined up. “I am playing Lokmanya Tilak in Chaphekar Brothers. They are trying to release it during [the] 15 August [week]. I also have Jugaadu No 1, Shaadi Toh Banti Hai, a film with Lekh Tandon, and JD, which is based on a journalist who uses wrong means to gain success.”