Gandhi Jayanti: Watch these films based on the life and times of the global leader
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Gandhi Jayanti: Watch these films based on the life and times of the global leader
Hia Datta
Oct 02, 2021

If Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s life were to be made into films, which it has been, the broad rushes we already know, in bits and fragments, or as a partial whole, through school history textbooks and public archives. Born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar in Gujarat, the short-statured man made the world sit back and marvel at his doctrine of ahimsa and satyagraha or peaceful, non-violent protest as the means to the end of political and social progress, and most importantly to liberate India from the British Raj. Famously known by the world today as Mahatma, and as Bapu in India, along with being hailed as the Father of the Nation, he spearheaded the nationalist movement in India and eventually was instrumental in ushering into independent India.

2019 marked the 150th birth anniversary of the now universally recognised political leader and this year, he turns 152. Mahatma Gandhi is perhaps among the most widely documented world leaders, with strong contentions and narratives from both his dissidents and proponents, and the attempt to get to know the man behind the Mahatma shall go on till the end of civilization.

 Here are five films that revolve around Mahatma Gandhi, etching different vignettes of him as perceived by the individual filmmakers. While you watch or re-watch them today onwards, spare a serious thought or two about how have we kept the man alive in modern-day India, or have we?

8.4OTTplay Rating
Richard Attenborough’s epic biopic on Mahatma Gandhi is perhaps the most conflicting cinematic mounting of the life and times of the Father of the Nation. The British-Indian historical film begins in 1893 when Gandhi is thrown off a train in racialised South Africa, that discriminated against Indian emigrants right up to his assassination in 1948 and his funeral. Ben Kingsley stood out (pun intended) in a constellation of Indian actors as the British actor who played Gandhi and the film went on to win eight Academy Awards, including the Best Picture, and five Golden Globe Awards, that included best foreign film. But the artistic liberty that Attenborough took to bend the history, in what critics have said was perhaps due to the outsider’s view on the Indian pre-independence history around Gandhi yields a telescopic, long shot of his life. And, the criticism that the film has received over the years is that it glosses over the contradictions of the Mahatma’s convictions and political standings, as well as his personal life. However, no Gandhi Jayanti special movie listicle could be claimed to be complete without this film and watch this one for a fairly detailed account of the Mahatma, notwithstanding the flaws.
The Making of the Mahatma
6.7OTTplay Rating
Drawn from the book, The Apprenticeship of a Mahatma by activist and scholar Fatima Meer, this one is the joint production of the Indian and South African film industry. The Shyam Benegal directorial stars Rajit Kapoor as Gandhi and Pallavi Joshi as Kasturba Gandhi. The film was released in 1996 and went on to bag two National awards, one for the Best Actor for Rajit Kapoor as Gandhi and the other one for the Best Feature film in English. In an interview with WildfilmsIndia, Benegal described his cinematic rendition as ‘the personal transformation of Gandhi.’ The film traces the evolution of Barrister Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who went to South Africa as a very shy young lawyer, still grappling with his convictions. And with his experiences there, he return to India 21 years later as the fully formed Mahatma in heart and mind. The plot traces the systemic racist oppression and hatred Gandhi faced as an Indian in South Africa that paved the way for his self-awakening and shaped his political and cultural ideologies. The film also touches upon his conflicts with his inner self and the family. The second half spends significant screentime on Gandhi encountering the second Boer War. We know the broad strokes of Gandhi’s experiences in South Africa but the film takes that to greater nuance in all its complexity, showing the world leader as a work in progress. The resounding merit in what is Shyam Benegal’s finest work is that it does not take away from the contradictions in the man and the political leader. Rajit Kapoor did a commendable job in his act and interestingly enough, Pallavi Joshi’s Kasturba is a woman with a mind of her own who rather induced Gandhi to root for independent women. It is wonderfully shot, written, directed, acted, and ended with a compelling message, and to witness that for yourself, watch the film!
Hey Ram
8OTTplay Rating
Although commercially unsuccessful, this film is an unusually imaginative, aesthetic, and multilayered take on the dark chapters of Indian history - India’s partition and the assassination of Gandhi. The plot, set in the 1940s, when India was on the verge of independence from the British, tells the fictional tale of Saketharaman Iyengar aka Saketh Ram, an apolitical archaeologist who falls victim to religious extremism. In an interview with the Hindu last year, Kamal Haasan, who directed, wrote and played Saketh Ram in the film revealed that while he was born in a family of Gandhi bhakts, he had unpopular views on the man, and the film is his ‘apology to Gandhi,’ but he wanted to look at the man behind the ‘hallow’ and thus never referred to Gandhi as ‘Mahatma’ in the film. Saketh Ram is deeply in love with his wife Aparna played by Rani Mukherjee but is left lost, unmoored and disillusioned after Aparna is killed in religious fundamentalist violence. Saketh is blinded by rage and hatred, blaming it on Gandhi wrongly, and transforms into a Hindu fanatic who wants to kill Gandhi. Kamal Hassan as the director of this complex film, paints Saketh, a dark protagonist in grey shades and doesn’t delineate things into black and white, while keeping his empathy intact for the sufferings of Saketh Ram. Naseeruddin Shah plays Gandhi. Shah Rukh Khan made his debut in Tamil cinema as Saketh Ram’s Muslim friend Amjad Ali Khan who helps resurrect humanity in Saketh Ram. The film was screened at the 25th Toronto International Film Festival, the International Film Festival of India and won three National Film Awards. The Film Federation of India sent it as the submission to the Oscars. Watch this film to have a look at the apprehensions and forebodings of wayward extremism and sectarianism shown lyrically by Kamal Hassan, which ironically grips modern-day India.
Lage Raho Munna Bhai
8.6OTTplay Rating
Where is Gandhi today? In hollow, tokenistic political speeches and platitudes, billboards, currency notes, dust-laden photographs in public institutions, stamps, as a read-and-forget chapter in our school history textbooks or in our hearts and minds as the voice of conscience that keeps us incorruptible and on the side of truth and non-violence? The 2006 film, directed by Rajkumar Hirani took up this central thought that rends through an increasingly polarised India today and made a delightfully entertaining tale, making the term ‘Gandhigiri’ cool all over, at least for the time being. Centering on the endearing gangster of Bombay, Murali Prasad Sharma aka Munna Bhai played by Sanjay Dutt and his companion Sarkeswar Sharma aka Circuit played by Arshad Warsi return onscreen, this time Munna Bhai falls in love with Janvi Sahni, a radio jockey played by the radiant Vidya Balan. And seeking to impress her, he reads up on Gandhi for an interview with her on the global icon on October 2, which becomes a tad too much for him. For he develops a ‘chemical locha’ in his brain that makes him see, hear and talk to Gandhi. Munna Bhai now turns to the Mahatma for solutions to problems of fellow citizens, along with his matter of the heart. Shantanu Moitra’s heartwarming music, backed by nice performances and the winning story within a populist pulse made it into a blockbuster. It also won a number of awards that included four National film awards, was sent as an independent entry for the 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, was screened at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, and became the first Hindi film that was shown at the United Nations.
Gandhi, My Father
7.6OTTplay Rating
This brilliant 2007 film, helmed by Feroz Abbas Khan scrapes into the personal dimension of the revered political leader and idealogue and the great personal cost he had to pay for his commitment to the social, political and spiritual deliverance of India. You could watch this film as the counterpoint to the much-celebrated biopic by Attenborough. Produced by Anil Kapoor, the biographical drama explores the strenuous relationship between Gandhi and his eldest son Harilal. Darshan Jariwala plays Gandhi and Akshay Khanna plays Harilal. Set against the broad lines of the historical events, the film unfolds in flashbacks, etching a poignant portrait of Harilal as the hard-in-luck son who remains forever overshadowed by his father’s eminence. He tries to be like his father, in different endeavours, but fails. Harilal'sordeal is only compounded by Gandhi’s renunciation of family ties towards his mission for the nation, that has Harilal deprived of his father’s love, attention and guidance to make it in life and find his own identity. The film bagged the 2009 National Film Award for Best Screenplay for Feroz Abbas Khan, Best Supporting Actor for Darshan Jariwala, and Special Jury Award for Feroz Abbas Khan and Anil Kapoor. Akshaye Khanna and Darshan Jariwala deliver a fine act as the harrowed Harilal and Shefali Shah plays Kasturba right on point. Bhoomika Chawla plays Gulaab, Harilal’s wife.

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