By Deepa Gahlot
There have been documentaries, plays, serials and more books than one can count on Mahatma Gandhi. Every time a film is made on the freedom struggle, or films on leaders like Sardar Patel, BR Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Veer Savarkar or Jinnah, Gandhi features in it. The definitive biopic Gandhi was made by Richard Attenborough in 1982, with Ben Kingsley in the role of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, which went on to win multiple Oscars, including Best Costume for Bhanu Athaiya. But there are a handful of other films with Mahatma Gandhi at the centre.
The Making Of The Mahatma (1996):
Shyam Benegal’s film starring Rajit Kapoor as a young MK Gandhi in South Africa, with Pallavi Joshi as Kasturba. The film was based on the book, The Apprenticeship Of A Mahatma by Fatima Meer, that follows the young barrister who arrives in Durban to work there, and is faced with the worst kind of racism and apartheid—the now well-known incident of him being thrown out of a train compartment meant only for whites. The lessons he learnt fighting British injustice in South Africa shaped him into the leader he would become when he returned to India to lead a non-violent struggle for freedom from British rule. The film won National Awards for Best Actor and Best English Film.
Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006):
Rajkumar Hirani coined the word Gandhigiri for peaceful protest, in his film about the gangster Munnabhai (Sanjay Dutt) and his sidekick Circuit (Arshad Warsi). It is to impress radio jockey Jahnvi (Vidya Balan), and win a Gandhi quiz, that Munnabhai starts to mug up on Gandhi, to the extent that Bapu (Dilip Prabhavalkar) appears to him and guides him to take the path of truth and satyagraha. Hirani’s best film so far, Lage Raho Munnabhai, spoke of Gandhian values in a lighthearted manner, which was more effective than hours of preaching.
Gandhi, My Father (2007):
Feroz Abbas Khan’s film, was based on the celebrated play Gandhi Viruddh Gandhi (by Dinkar Joshi in Gujarati and Ajit Dalvi in Marathi), which was about the troubled relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and his son, Harilal. Darshan Jariwala played Gandhi, Shefali Shah was Kasturba and Akshaye Khanna the embittered son, who came to believe that in the process of building himself up as a leader for the country, Gandhi neglected his family, and was unjust to his own children. In trying to get his father’s attention and love, Harilal fell into a deep abyss of alcoholism and despair and died on the street like a vagabond. The film, produced by Anil Kapoor, went on to win national and international awards.
Hey Ram (2000):
Naseeruddin Shah, who has missed out on playing Gandhi in Attenborough’s biopic, got to play him in this Kamal Haasan film. The star who also produced and wrote the film, played Saketh Ram, a man whose wife is raped and killed by a Muslim mob during the Partition riots. He swears to kill Gandhi, who, he believes was responsible for the events that caused the horrific bloodshed in the country. Shah Rukh Khan played his Muslim friend who deflects him from his destructive mission, while Atul Kulkarni, in a National award-winning role, played the a militant who is opposed to what is seen as Gandhi’s policy of appeasing Muslims and plots to murder the Mahatma.
Nine Hours To Rama (1963):
One of the first films from the West that Gandhi (played by JJ Casshyap) was featured, was actually about Nathuram Godse, the man who assassinated the Mahatma in 1948. Directed by Mark Robson, based on a book by Stanley Wolpert the film captures the troubled mind of Godse (Horst Buchholz) and the events leading up to the killing. The nine hour of the title is the time that Godse prepares for the assassination. Jose Ferrer played the cop who tries to prevent it, but fails. The film was criticised for using western actors to play Indian characters, and was banned in India.
Deepa Gahlot is one of India’s seniormost and best known entertainment journalists. A National Awardwinning film critic, Deepa has watched more movies and theatre than most people in the country. An author of several books on film and theatre, she has had an extremely successful run as head of theatre and film at the National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai, during which she helped nurture several original productions. For Xyngr, Deepa Gahlot reviews theatre and cinema.