While reading a collection of Gandhi's writings I came upon a mention of his son having converted to Islam. I was very surprised since Attenborough's film had completely skipped over any children and so I couldn't wait to see this film when I learned of it. I was expecting them to have had some sort of violent, acrimonious parting, but that doesn't really seem to have been the case.
The story is an old one though; very successful Dad expects son to go into the family business but son wants to do something else and this inevitably drives a wedge between them. The main difference is that here the son wants to be what his Dad USED to be (namely a Barrister) and Dad's new business is Self-Sacrificing Servant of the People. The son (Harilal) follows obediently through the early years in South Africa, all the while quietly harboring a small grudge because others are given what he feels should be his, but he never gives up his dreams of accomplishing something big and impressing Dad--never realizing that all it would take to do that would be to live his life in the service of the people just as he already was. It's a sad story of a father and mother whose arms are always open to welcome back a son who just can't stay out of trouble and ultimately uses the family name to steal money from others. It's also the story of how a great man can be a father to millions who have never seen him, but can't really connect with a child born of his own blood.
My one problem with the film was the casting. So much depended on Akshaye Khanna as Harilal, and to me he was inadequate. He had one expression that resembled nothing so much as cocker spaniel that has just been caught urinating on the carpet. However Shefali Shah as Hari's mother is truly the shining star in this film. Her suffering as she tries to hold her family together is poignant and will resonate with audiences everywhere.