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MAHATMA GANDHI IN CINEMA

Dr. Narendra Kaushik : Cambridge Scholars has published an interesting book in the name of ‘Mahatma Gandhi in Cinema. Written by Dr. Narendra Kaushik, a senior journalist-turned-academic, the book first time attempts to analyse the entire 100 year (1913-2013) history of the Hindi cinema.  Here are excerpts from an exclusive interview with the author:

Why did you choose to write on Mahatma Gandhi in Cinema?

Hindi cinema has been my passion since childhood. I always wanted to write about it.

I was introduced to Mahatma Gandhi sometime in late 1990s when a lady at Gandhi Darshan gifted me a paper-bound copy of ‘The Story of My Experiments with Truth’. It left a huge print on my mind. In 2010, when I first thought of doing doctorate in Mass Communication I chose the subject Mahatma Gandhi in Cinema. I completed my PhD on the same subject in 2017.

Gandhi in cinema has been explored earlier too. But my research first time covers 100 years (1913=2013) of Hindi cinema.

Is there a Gandhi in Cinema?

I would say there is and there is not. It depends on which period of the cinema you are looking at. The cinema before 1960 had Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi written all over it.  This produced films like Raja Harishchandra (1913), Achhut Kanya (1936), Padosi (1941), Hum Ek Hain, Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani, Dharati Ke Lal (1946), Do Bigha Zameen (1953), Do Aankhen Barah Haath, Naya Daur (1957), Phir Subah Hogi (1958), Sujata (1959), Shriman Satyawadi (1960) and others.

After the arrival of superstar Rajesh Khanna in mid 60s, Gandhi exited the cinema. He remained outdoor during Amitabh Bachchan’s reign as well. During this, whatever films were made on Gandhian principles they were either filmed by the parallel cinema or individual filmmakers like Ashutosh Gowariker.  Films like Manthan, Ankur, and Train to Pakistan came from the art cinema.  Even mainstream movies like Satyakam, Swades, Jaag Utha Insaan, Hey Ram, and Lagaan also carried the stamp of the realistic cinema.

Gandhi made a comeback to Hindi cinema only in 2006 when Raju Hirani’s Lage Raho Munnabhai (LMB) was released. I would say that the LMB resurrected Gandhi. Suddenly, there was a deluge of films on Gandhian principles with Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara, Gandhi My Father and Satyagraha leading the revolution. But it also stopped after a short while.

If you are talking of biopics on Gandhi we have only three – Gandhi, Making of the Mahatma and Gandhi My Father. None of these three, however, is a complete biopic. Gandhi only covers Mahatma Gandhi’s political struggle. Moreover, it shows Gandhi from the perspective of his foreign friends. It blanks out his childhood and adolescence. Shyam Benegal’s Making of the Mahatma covers his sojourn in South Africa while Gandhi My Father juxtaposes the great man against his wayward son Hari Lal.

When it comes to different principles of Gandhi filmmakers have projected truth, untouchability, swadeshi and equality of religions honestly to an extent. But they have taken the most liberties with non-violence. Even the LMB is ambivalent on non-violence.

Did you analyse films based on certain Gandhian principles?

Gandhi, you know, adopted 11 vows in his life. From these I picked up Truth, non-violence, eradication of untouchability, equality of untouchability and Swadeshi because all other vows are interwoven into these.

Did you interview filmmakers during your study?

No, I did not interview any filmmakers. I only made a comparative analysis of film content with what has been documented in various books including the 100 books in the form of The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi and his newspapers etc.

What are your findings?

Hindi films have portrayed Gandhian principles of truth, Swadeshi, equality of religions and eradication of untouchability sporadically. When it comes to non-violence they have taken the most liberties. There is only V Shantaram’s Do Aankhen Barah Haath which is an exception to it.

In biopics, Gandhi has either been presented as a superman or in a unilinear fashion. Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi and Feroz Khan’s Gandhi My Father are hagiographies. The filmmakers have made no efforts to analyse why there was ambivalence in the Mahatma’s views on untouchability, non-violence and other ideals. They have not made an honest effort to dissect why Gandhi evolved over time and at times appeared to be a different person than his earlier self.

For instance, on untouchability there were two Gandhis. Arundhati Roy rightly calls the Gandhi who lived before 1920s a half-castiest. This Gandhi believed in Chaturvarna (four caste system), was a backer of caste-based vocations and was against inter-caste marriages and inter-dining. But the second Gandhi (after 1920) turned his views upside down questioned caste system, rejected caste-based vocations and fervently appealed for inter-caste marriages and inter-dining.

Does you book say anything about Gandhi’s role in partition, his role during Bhagat Singh’s execution and his differences with Subhas?

It does. Gandhi was initially against partition. He argued against it from every other fora available to him. He in fact, participated in meetings with Jinnah as a representative of Hindu-Muslim unity. He had no official locus standi. He was neither congress president nor in the government. He came around on partition after Nehru and Patel agreed to it and there seemed to be no alternate available.

When it comes to Bhagat Singh Gandhi had fundamental differences with him. But to say that he did nothing to get his execution suspended would be a lie.  He never questioned Singh’s bravery and greatly valued his sacrifice and made efforts to get his sentence suspended.

Similarly, he never had differences of heart with Subhas and once even believed that Netaji could win freedom for India with the assistance of axis powers. Filmmakers like Rajkumar Santoshi (The Legend of Bhagat Singh) have only perpetuated the myth on his role in Bhagat Singh’s execution.

Which is your favourite Gandhian movie?

My favourite is Lage Raho Munnabhai. It conveys Gandhi’s message in the language of the masses. Its message is direct and pointed and hits home.

I liked Making of the Mahatma as well. Unlike Gandhi, it presents the Mahatma as an ordinary person and is much more enjoyable. Films like Satyakam and Swades also promote Gandhian ideals in a classy manner. 

Dr. Narendra Kaushik
MA (English), MMC, PGDJ, PhD
Associate Professor,
Journalism & Mass CommunicationJECRC University,

Jaipur

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