GANDHI TO HITLER Review
Rakesh Ranjan Kumar's Gandhi to Hitler is a film that is so far beyond inept that it ventures curiously near the realm of the avant garde. I hesitate to give Mr. Kumar's film that much credit, however, and will just say that the best compliment I can give is that I was continually flabbergasted by the perpetual cascade of gobsmackingly idiotic choices made by everyone involved. The film is cringe-inducingly awful, but, for those of us who've made a habit of watching bad movies that were made intentionally hokey, this is a special experience. You see, what makes this film special is that it is painfully obvious in every frame that there is sincere effort being put forth. With the possible exception of Neha Dhupia, the actress tapped to play Hitler's mistress/wife Eva Braun, everyone in the cast and crew appear to have been doing their very best, only to be thwarted by the abject fatuity of the script, direction, set design, cinematography, you name it.
This review is something of an experiment. Last night when I was watching the film, I thought it might be fun to live tweet my experience. Little did I know that it would be such an exceptional evening on my part. So, I'm going to try something new. I'm going to partially recreate the live-tweeting experience. I'll post some of my initial reactions, along with images to illustrate what spurred them, then I will elaborate with the benefit of hindsight. This may not work, but I spent a lot of time getting these stupid screengrabs, so I'm going to give it a shot. Ladies and gentlemen...
I began watching the film with an open mind. Sort of. I'd read several reviews, most of which were from the Indian media, who have their own standards for reviewing films which typically don't mesh with film criticism in other parts of the world. I've read awesome reviews of Indian films that I hated, and terrible reviews of films that I love. I think I was expecting an insensitive, hostile, and possibly even racist film from the previous research I'd conducted on this matter. What surprised me most was that Gandhi to Hitler was really none of these things, but it was a complete failure for infinitely more sincere reasons. No one knew what they hell they were doing.
A quick history lesson may be helpful in understanding the film. Perhaps the one thing that Gandhi to Hitler did right was to insert a montage explaining the connection between India's army and Hitler's. The history lesson included in the film is a 2-3 minute montage of WWII stock footage with a voice over explaining the connection between India and Germany in a much better way than I can. The upshot is that Indian revolutionary, Subhas Chandra Bose, created an Indian Army unit that was dispensed to Germany to fight the Allied forces during the war. This is important to know because part of the narrative is based on these soldiers who were stranded thousands of miles from their home fighting a battle that was only marginally theirs. The story is really interesting and deserves to be told, but it deserves so much better than this. Anyway, back to the flash...
I want to get this out of the way right now. Yes, all of the actors in the film are Indian, including Hitler and his officers. They aren't particularly light skinned, either, some are quite dark. In addition to that, the dialogue is almost exclusively in Hindi, which is off-putting at first, however, if you consider how many Hollywood films are made about WWII with Germans speaking English, it really isn't that bad. For some people these two facts along would be enough to condemn the film as a failure, however, I chose to take the film at face value and go with the internal logic to see where it led me. There will be very little of me making light of these inconsistencies in this review. There are PLENTY of other, more substantive, problems with Gandhi to Hitler. Using the above mentioned as joke fodder would be taking the easy way out and glossing over the true insanity of the experience.
Having made the above plea, I will make one joke, but I think it's a good one.
Gandhi to Hitler takes place mainly during the last few days of the Reich when Hitler and the heavy hitters within his regime were holed up in the Führerbunker. Now you may be saying to yourself, "self, I've seen this movie before, about seven years ago when it was called The Downfall". You would be right. With the exceptions of the cutaways to follow Indian soldiers and their storylines and the few brief snippets of Gandhi chillin', this is The Brownfall (there I said it). In fact, it became apparent to me that the extent of Raghuvir Yadav's (Hitler) research was watching "Hitler Reacts To..." videos on Youtube. Every emotion, every line delivery, every breath he takes as Hitler is absurd to the level of high camp. He shakes violently, screams every line he's given, and by the end of the film, he's practically incapacitated by his own affected vibration.
The role of Hitler is incredibly poorly cast in this film. In addition to being about 4'10", Yadav, just doesn't get it. There is no arc for his character. The actor originally cast in the role was Anupam Kher, who is a very solid character actor. After numerous pleas from fans around the world, Kher decided against taking the role, citing the nearly universal condemnation for the film even in theory. In restrospect, though he would have done the role greater justice, even Kher wouldn't have been able to make this thing work.
The above image is emblematic of the failings of Gandhi to Hitler. Normally the captioning of a film is used to let the viewer know where and when a film is set. In fact, Gandhi to Hitler opens with just such a caption, indicating that the picture begins in "Poland, 1939". However, the rest of the film is filled with this sort of caption, in which on screen actions are described like stage directions. Rather than explain what is going on through the narrative, the director simply throws a complete thought on screen as a shortcut. Now, I can't be certain if this is in the script as written by Nalin Singh who also portrays Hitler right hand man, Joseph Goebbels in the film, or if it was an editing decision made by the director. Given Singh's proximity to the project as both screenwriter and actor, and his being on set constantly, I can't imagine his script getting hacked very easily, so I tend to think that these actions are portrayed as written. These captions appear at least half a dozen times throughout the film and made me giggle every time. However, this is just the beginning...
Immediately preceding this screengrab Hitler and Braun were eating cake at Hitler's birthday party in the Führerbunker when it was bombed, and Hitler stormed out. Not one to waste a perfectly good party, Neha Dhupia's Eva Braun cranks up the music, which sounds like poorly synthesized jump swing, and hops onto the nearest table to shake what her mama gave her. The scene is almost surreal. It is shot and edited like a music video, which is not terribly unusual for a Hindi film, except that the music is terrible, and in this case, Hitler is literally in the next room.
The Eva Braun that Neha Dhupia portrays is a good time girl with a thing for Adolf. Her happy-go-lucky attitude clashes with her ultimate decision to go down with the ship and die by her own hand by Hitler's side. Someone with that kind of attachment to their mate probably wouldn't insist that his birthday party continue, nay, ramp up, in his absence. I can't blame Dhupia, though, she's the best thing about the film, and the only actual actor on the set in most cases. If anything, she doesn't get enough screen time. She worked with what she was given, which was a giant smelly turd. You can almost see in her eyes that she's the only one who realizes what she's doing is campy, and she works it. It's a brave thing, and in retrospect, I gotta say, she took the film as far as she could, but when it sank, she couldn't breathe life back into it.
And here we have the one he left behind, seeking comfort in the arms of another. What a tramp! Seriously, this happens in the film, I didn't even have to transpose any subtitles, I just hit pause. Moments after this frame, she gets closer to the scarecrow and lays her head on its chest while throwing her arms around it. The sequence is played completely straight, no intention of humor AT ALL. In fact, this shot is fleeting, it is only one angle in a montage of images of her looking forlorn. Perhaps if they'd lingered, I would say that it was intentionally humorous, but the fact that they don't linger leads me to believe that they actually expected the sum of all of the parts of this sequence to affect the audience and elicit empathy. Didn't work.
From there we move back into the Führerbunker, where Adolf is beginning to unravel. He's gotten word that the above pictured member of the Reich is planning on abandoning the bunker. Immediately following this frame, a gaggle of storm troopers in ill-fitting Nazi costumes broke into the room, where apparently the woman just finished having the least fulfilling sexual experience of her life (for real, what is that face?), and assassinated them both. Hitler doesn't tolerate traitors, I think we all know that, but at least he let the guy finish.
My guess is that the actor, and I use that term very loosely, in this scene was just glad not to have to wear the shitty costumes that the cast had been given. Every single military uniform in this film looks like it was purchased in the Halloween section of Target on November 1st. None of the medals or epaulets are straight, they are all ill-fitting and obviously off the rack, and everything just looks cheap. I'll get to that more later, for now, back to the front.
His company falling to pieces around him, this brave Indian member of the Azad Hind Fauj, the Indian National Army, decides to take the easy way out. These soldiers, as I mentioned, were far from home with no direct support from their government, which didn't even really exist yet. Hitler basically conscripted, along with Subhas Chandra Bose, members of the Azad Hind Fauj into his army and called them the Indische Legion. The Indians thought they were fighting for their own freedom from Great Britain, but in reality they were simply fighting for Hitler. Their actions may have helped to weaken Great Britain's army, eventually leading to independence, but most people greater weight to Gandhi's actions, rather than Bose's, though Bose also remains a national hero.
Ah, more Shakespeare. Gandhi to Hitler keeps trying to show us that it is a real film, however, it is shit like this that really torpedoes any hope of taking this thing seriously. In real life, Hitler loved the Goebbels children, and that relationship is hinted at here in the film, where he gets one of the girls to read excerpts from Julius Caesar. The poor child obviously doesn't comprehend what she's reading, nor do the other children, except perhaps for the girl who is second from the right. Looks at that face. The choice of Julius Caesar as the piece of literature that this Hitler keeps referring to is about as subtle as a kick in the nuts, which might be preferable to this film at times. However, I must admit, I was kind of starting to get into it at this point. The absurdity of the whole thing is mind-blowing, please refer to the exhibit below.
Eva Brown? Really? The amazing thing about this capture is that Neha Dhupia's character is repeatedly referred to correctly as Eva Braun throughout the film. It is only in this sequence, the fucking wedding sequence, when the person captioning the film typed Brown. It could be taken as some grand in-joke about the ethnicity of the characters on screen. Not quite as good as The Brownfall, but if it were intentional, it might be amusing. It isn't intentional, though it is still amusing, but not for the reason it should be.
And another thing... What the fuck is up with that dress? Neha Dhupia's wardrobe seems to have taken up the bulk of the budget on this film, which I'm sure was meager to begin with. Surely they could've found something better than that! The poofy sleeves, what the fuck is that all about? I'm not normally one to complain about costumes, but when they just punch you in the face like this, it's hard not to comment at all. Which leads me to commiserate with Hitler.
I'm good for a laugh, but after the Eva Brown/costume debacle, I was beginning to feel a bit down. In this sequence, Hitler, played with seething apoplectic rage by Raghuvir Yadav, decides that if the Reich is going down that he'd rather take his own life than be captured by the Allies. This is not an unfamiliar scene, again, this film borrows heavily from The Downfall, and this sequence is just par for the course. Hitler pontificates on the unfairness of his defeat, and his unwillingness, nay, his inability to concede or compromise for the good of the German people. With him in the room is screenwriter/Goebbels, Nalin Singh, who agrees, and they make a pact to die with dignity. Apparently dignity is German for murdering your five children in their sleep. But I digress, as does the film.
This is not the best screen capture, but on the DVD, it appears that after saying their goodbyes to the world, the newlywed Mr. and Mrs. Hitler enter the Red Room from Twin Peaks in order to take their lives. I kept expecting the dwarf to show up and for everyone to start talking backwards, then I realized that Yadav was the dwarf, and he may as well be speaking backwards, because I don't speak Hindi, who knows?
On the table is a choice of suicide implements. In front of Adolf is a gun, almost certainly historically inaccurate, and in front of Eva is a plate with what is meant to be four cyanide tablets. Two things struck me here. First, why would she need four cyanide tablets, are they expired? Second, the cyanide tablets look like multi-vitamins you might buy at a health food store. Did Eva Brown overdose on Vitamin D? Is that part of the historical record? Could they not find a nice, nondescript sugar pill? Are they trying to fail?
She's dead there, in case you couldn't tell. Her death scene was as spectacularly absurd as each of the rest of her appearances. She puts the Flintstones chewable in her mouth, bites down, then becomes stiff as a board and falls, completely rigid, into Adolf's arms. Eyes open. Now, I've never seen anyone really commit suicide via cyanide, and it may well look like that, but it was fucking hysterical in its complete lack of histrionics. Obviously one cannot emote when one has already died, but somehow, Neha Dhupia managed to complete her role in this film with the same sense of humor with which she began. The more I look back on her performance, the more I can appreciate it as the one bright spot in this poorly conceived trainwreck.
Gandhi to Hitler is a complete disaster. Everything, from soup to nuts, is wrong. In addition to the failures I have above illuminated, there are many shortcomings to the production. The Führerbunker in which we spend the majority of our time, looks like it was compiled from spare parts from the sets Tim Burton built for Ed Wood. No one ever touches a wall in this film, and I get the feeling it is because if they tried, their hand would go right through.
One might think that the problem of production design could be limited to the interiors, but no! Even the exteriors are bizarrely inappropriate. All of the exteriors were shot in India, including the European battles, which come in two flavors. Either we are following the Indian soldiers, in which case we are in the forest, which is easy to mask, or we are at the front with the Reich, which consists entirely of burning Jeeps. That's all. The only prop that Gandhi to Hitler provided for battle sequences at the front were burning Jeeps. There are no buildings, there are hardly even any soldiers, just Jeeps.
There is also the issue of the incredibly bizarre color timing of the film. For the vast majority of the film, the image is noticeably desaturated, perhaps to lessen the impact of seeing a brown Adolf Hitler. The one obvious exception is the Holi song sequence. Apart from that everything is either very drab (Germany), or very brown/yellow (India). I believe this is a stylistic choice, and I can respect that. It looks stupid, but it was intentional, so be it. The main problem with the color timing of the film is that all of the actual battle footage is in the form of stock footage that has been colorized, presumably to fool the audience into thinking that it was shot simultaneously with the rest of the film. The colorization is awful, it looks like someone scanned the footage into Microsoft Paint and did all of the post production work there. What is even more baffling is that the outside footage that actually was shot for the film (burning Jeeps), is color timed to match the atrocious colorization. It is truly mind-bending. The confluence of bad decisions involved in making this film defies all logic.
The most amazing thing about this film, the one thing that I found completely astonishing, is that I absolutely enjoyed almost every minute of its incompetence out of all proportion. The film is terrible, but I actually found myself pausing it and grabbing my wife to show her my favorite parts. It's like Plan 9 from Outer Space, only it's about Hitler! The complete sincerity about the production of this film makes it work, somehow. Try though some might, you cannot manufacture the "so bad it's good" movie, it has to be organic. There have to be some blood, sweat, and tears up on the screen, and Gandhi to Hitler has that. If it were in English, it would be PERFECT midnight movie fodder; as it is, it will only reach the smallest of crowds for a number of reasons. The first being the language barrier, and the second being the cultural barrier, though I think the second reason is moderated by the fact that the story being told is actually fairly capably explained in the introduction.
I'm not encouraging you to seek this film out. I think I've given as rational and even-handed a review of Gandhi to Hitler as is humanly possible, and I'll let you make your own decision. As for me, this is a film that I will show my friends, and my friends' friends, as a barometer of their compatibility with me and my outlook. It is a preposterous outing, and an impressively singular debut from the fledgling Amrapali Media Pvt Ltd production company. As a film, Gandhi to Hitler is a complete and utter failure in every way. However, as entertainment it is nowhere near as bad as it should be. I'm as flummoxed by my reaction to this film as the filmmakers were by the process of making their film. Gandhi to Hitler sucks, so why can't I stop writing about it?