Road to Sangam
Gipsy Films, Rs 299
Rating: *** 1/2
One of prized possessions of the government museum in Allahabad is a big-nosed, bottle-green truck with a Ford V8 engine. It’s the vehicle that in 1948 carried one of the urns containing Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes on its journey to the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna, where it was tipped into the water according to the Mahatma’s wishes. The others were sent to various parts of the country and beyond to be immersed in other rivers. Mysteriously, one of the urns stayed locked up in Orissa.
In 2000, the Mahatma’s grandson Tushar Gandhi claimed the last of the urns and wanted to consign its content to the waters at Sangam in the same way the earlier one had been taken — riding the Ford V8.
This old wish combines with the transposed story of Hasmatullah, the real mechanic who fixed the engine for its earlier historic journey, to form the core of Amit Rai’s Road to Sangam.
The inevitable bout of sentimentality that overcome us about anything to do with the Bapu is kept in check by some taut performances by Paresh Rawal as mechanic Hasmatullah and Om Puri as Mohammad Ali Kasuri, a leader of the local Muslim community. Pawan Malhotra’s portrayal of the testy Maulana Qureshi, who tries to enforce a strike and disallow Hasmatullah’s time-bound work, shines above everyone else’s.
Shades of grey among the supporting cast ensures that the Muslim’s mixed experience with the Indian state is told empathetically.
As Rawal explains in the making of feature, the nub of the tale comes from Hasmatullah, whose line of reasoning with Kasuri translates as, “Here’s a guy who died for us [Muslims]. His own people [Hindus] killed him. And you wouldn’t want to salute him?”