Forgetting the Mahatma

By Smita Sarkar

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi also known as Mahatma Gandhi and Bapu; the father of the nation requires no new introduction. We grew up reading about his principles of ahimsa in history books – feeling proud to be a part of this culture. We read critiques on Gandhi when we were a little mature, and over-awed with his contributions towards shaping the future of India. 

Mahatma GandhiWhenever I think of Mahatma Gandhi, what plays in my mind are images from Richard Attenborough’s Oscar winning (eight categories, by the way) film Gandhi. I have vivid memories of watching the film during one of our rare school trips to a Kolkata movie hall. The two and a half hours of a censored version had left a lasting impression in our young minds.

I remember my giggly friends weeping through the sequences where General Dyer coldly gathered the Indian sepoys, locked the gates and open-fired on the Sikhs gathered unarmed at the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar. We gasped as the women jumped into the well with small children clinging onto their chests.

Ironically, while it was fashionable to hate history and brand it as boring – we actually started developing an interest in history. I have personally watched the movie several times; (still do when ever it plays on television every Gandhi Jayanti) memorized the dialogues and sequences and even cried repeatedly while watching the predictable sequences on the partition riots and other volatile events during India’s independence.

Paradoxically, Bollywood has not been able to make any films on Gandhi (except for Rajkumar Hirani’s Lage Raho Munnabhai) that the youth can relate to. The schools resort to screenings of films like The Minions, Krish, Frozen etc; where you get to learn about good and evil – the powerful versus the powerless and…. Well, let me think… I think that is about it. What impact do they really have on these young minds?

I spoke to a few children in their pre-teens, early-teens about Gandhi. This was outside their after-school dance, swimming and soccer classes in the up-market Bandra West suburb in Mumbai, and was rather taken aback by their responses. 

“He is the elderly fellow in all our (currency) notes, dude,” one ten-year old said to the other. 

They laughed, blamed their IB and IGCSC boards for not including an in-depth study on Indian history. They said there wasn’t enough ‘interesting’ material available on the net. Some had never watched a movie on Gandhi.

“We were asked to do a project and I checked out YouTube. There were some black and white documentaries, and some really boring stuff,” said a thirteen-year-old.  

“Is he really ‘hero-material’?” They jeered at me, thinking I must have really lost my marbles to be referring to an old, feeble man as a hero.

“Movies made on him are boring – arty type. Too slow. We didn’t like watching Gandhi movies.” they said.

I cannot blame them for their responses, because they do have a valid point here.

Have we seen the relevance of Gandhi in the last say 100 hit films in Bollywood in the recent years? The answer is ‘No.’

We have hardly seen any high-impact movies on Gandhi being made in the Bolly, Holly, Tolly and all the other existing ‘woods’ of the world in the past years!!

Rajkumar Hirani’s Lage Raho Munnabhai was brilliant in its depiction of Gandhi’s values being evergreen and apt even in today’s context. The movie was released in 2006 and was a record hit because of its convincing narrative and superb humor. Sadly, many youngsters were too young to understand it nearly a decade back, and hence have not watched it.

I wish Hiraniji will make a sequel or something soon, so we could get to watch and enjoy another simple and non-patronizing movie on Gandhi.

Hey Ram, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose – The Forgotten Hero, Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara and The Making of Mahatma, have received critical acclaim, but have not managed to do well at the box office.


A rare and undated picture of the Mahatma

I felt that was probably because the treatment and storyline in these films were meant for a niche audience.

Would it not be fantastic to have some simple yet robust narratives for the janta and the ‘hip’ younger generation in India – so they are able to look beyond the stereo-typical image of ‘heros’ and what real strength of character means?

Children need to understand that muscle power does not make a hero. Being dressed in branded clothes and riding a Porsche does not make a hero. A man dressed in a half-dhoti, khadi shawl and sandals can have an entire nation follow him blindly. That would be a ‘hero.’ A superhero.

A ‘hero’ holds back when assaulted; because it takes incredible courage to practice restraint (Ahimsa). He is compassionate, simple and down-to-earth. He is stronger than the strongest because of his inner strength.

Gandhi’s principles are complicated, but they can be made simple for the youth and the mass to understand and appreciate.

We are eagerly waiting for another work of brilliance from filmistan to revive our national hero who dedicated his entire life to the people of India.

I understand that it is relevant for movies to be commercially viable and movies are commercially viable only if they are relevant. But, what can really be more relevant than Gandhi and his values?

People outside India are more appreciative of his principles than we are. Nothing would be more tragic than the Mahatma having his page turned over – from being the Father of the Nation to a personality no one is willing to touch in Indiawood. So please, listen up – our beloved film fraternity!! It’s about time you gave us another good Gandhi movie. 

Films on the Mahatma

  • Welcome back Gandhi (2014) by A Balakrishnan

  • Dear Friend Hitler (2011) by Rakesh Ranjan Kumar

  • Gandhi My Father (2007) by Firoz Abbas Khan

  • Lagey Raho Munnabhai (2006) by Rajkumar Hirani

  • Netaji S.C. Bose, The Forgotten Hero (2005) by Shyam Benegal

  • Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara (2005) by Jahnu Barua

  • Hey Ram (2000) by Kamal Hassan

  • The Making of Mahatma (1996) Shyam Benegal

  • Sardar (1993) by Ketan Mehta

  • Gandhi (1982) by Richard Attenborough

  • Nine hours to Rama -1963 by Mark Robinson

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