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Pankaj Sehgal and Jesus Sans Talk The Gandhi Murder

Based on true events immediately prior to Gandhi’s assassination, The Gandhi Murder stars American actor Stephen Lang and British talents Luke Pasqualino, Vinnie Jones and Om Puri (in his final on-screen role prior to his death in 2017).

71 years after Mahatma Gandhi’s tragic death at the hands of the Hindu right-wing nationalist, Nathuram Vinayak Godse, The Gandhi Murder delves into the political events leading to the assassination that changed the future of Independent India.

The movie demonstrates a violent India, against the backdrop of a non-violent Gandhi, and hard-line fanatic mindsets beginning to grow roots in a country divided on the basis of religion.

The film follows three Senior police officers in different parts of India, who are well aware of the intelligence that Gandhi’s life is under threat.

Subsequently, they must take key decisions that would eventually either save the Mahatma or the country.

The movie aims to unravel facts that are bound to trigger the thought that what is conveyed by governments is seldom the full truth and that politics define what history books were written.

Both the police and Indian politicians were well aware of the impending assassination, and even knew about the key planners, and yet did not act in time.

This demonstrates that the assassination was not an act of a single assassin, but a collective plan hatched within the corridors of power of the newly independent India.

In a special interview, we speak with director Pankaj Sehgal and actor Jesus Sans, who plays Mahatma Gandhi. 

Pankaj Sehgal: The Director

When it comes to Gandhi’s assassination, there have been several films in the past (including Hey Ram and Nine Hours to Rama) what inspired you to make The Gandhi Murder?

Yes, there have been many films. Hey Ram is, of course, a fictional story of an individual and his hatred of Gandhi at that time.

Nine hours to Rama was a romantic, again a fictional account of certain people linked to Gandhi and the impact of Gandhi’s assassination to their life.

Gandhi (The movie) was on his whole life.

The Gandhi Murder is based on true events and looks at the assassination from the police angle.

The movie revolves around the communal divide that was leading India to a civil war, helpless police and politicians with no experience in managing a country.

In an ironic twist of fate, Gandhi’s murder became almost mandatory for India’s survival as a secular democracy.

It is therefore not a biography. It is hard hitting and is a work of a lot of years of research on all aspects of the murder.

As a director, how challenging is it for you to maintain that balance of conspiracy theories, alongside entertaining the audience?

I think a historical thriller is always a hard nut to crack. There are so many intertwined stories, too many key characters and 2 hours of screen-time.

So you cut between stories and yet try and create a cohesive account and interesting cinema experience.

I hope we have given a balanced account that the audience will like.

Of course, not having an Indian writer always helps, as that ensures a neutral and unbiased approach.

What do you hope to achieve from The Gandhi Murder?

We do hope that the world comes back to understand that divisive policies lead to destruction.

If India had continued on the path of communal divide, it would have led to a civil war, and the country breaking up into small principalities.

Of course, it is also a history lesson on wheels for ethnic Indians and Pakistanis.

Stellar performances by Stephen Lang, Luke Pasqualino, Alen Thomson, Behzaad Khan and of course the legendary Om Puri will hopefully enthral the audience.

The fact that the film is based on conspiracy theories, could ruffle a few feathers. Have you and the team prepared yourselves for any potential backlashes?

Not just a few feathers. There have been threats from various quarters and we have taken the hard decision of not releasing in India.

Which is bad because this is a story of Mahatma Gandhi. But there’s no point in risking lives and creating a furore.

This is art and we had hoped for a more receptive audience. Unfortunately, that is not to be as far as India is concerned.

This is not a fictional movie of hard-hitting heroes.

This is a true account of the only true hero India ever produced.

The movie requires maturity and tolerance to understand the true Gandhi.

Jesus Sans: Playing Mahatma Gandhi 

You play the titular character of Gandhi. Did you feel a sense of pressure of enacting the part… If so, how did you overcome it?

Playing a character who is a very well-known world leader is always tough.

I focussed on the real Gandhi’s character instead. Over the months I focussed on how he thought, what he did, how the events would be influencing someone like him.

Then I started getting a feel of it.

Of course, the confidence reposed in me by the directors, and encouragement by someone like Om Puri who had a lot of experience helped tremendously.

What preparations did you undergo for the role?

I spent long hours hearing Gandhi.

I read about him, contemplated how he was thinking during the pivotal events immediately after India’s partition.

In the movie, Gandhi’s personality is complicated.

In a sense, he has come to realise that it is through his death that India can be saved.

It is the ultimate sacrifice. And so I had to be in that zone.

Whom (if anyone at all) were you inspired by… Ben Kingsley, perhaps?

Initially, that’s exactly what I tried to do. But Ben Kingsley’s Gandhi is a full life curve.

In The Gandhi Murder, it is the end days. So I took to reading and listening to his words, try and copy his style.

Be calm through all the tension and stress the country is going through and mentally prepare for a violent death, as Gandhi had a premonition about his death, and he was resigned to it.

It is a sad Gandhi, who sees death and destruction and realises that his countrymen probably are not ready. Partition, communal murders, fanaticism.

It was far from Gandhi’s dream of India.

Watch The Gandhi Murder Trailer here!

The Gandhi Murder releases in cinemas on 30th January 2019. 

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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