Aging civil servant Anand Rao isn’t really Mahatma Gandhi — but he plays him on TV. Unfortunately, the improbable casting proves to be more of a penance than a blessing for the reluctant thesp in “The Tortoise, an Incarnation,” an initially intriguing but unduly protracted drama by Indian writer-director Girish Kasaravalli. Winner of the 2012 National Film Award for best feature film in Kannada, the pic may generate respectful interest, but muted enthusiasm, on the global fest circuit.
Rao (Shikaripura Krishnamurthy), a buttoned-down paper-pusher near retirement, is approached to play Gandhi in a TV serial after the originally cast actor is incapacitated. He has no acting experience whatsoever, but a desperate young director, along with Rao’s greedy son and daughter-in-law, push him to play the part. While studying Gandhi’s teachings, the sternly reserved Rao — heretofore emotionally reserved to the point of not weeping even when his wife died — increasingly assumes the emotional and philosophical attributes of the venerated holy man he’s portraying, with unexpectedly tragic results. Pic’s one comical scene has Rao as Gandhi exploited as a TV-commercial pitchman. Otherwise, it’s a long slog to an unsatisfyingly abrupt ending.