April 22, 2010

Also a Cinematic Enigma

He is called the Father of the Nation. And my own father hates him! As a child, I was always confused. In high school, I asked the opinion of a professor I admired a lot – an expert in Political Science and Sociology – what does he think about Gandhi. His answer heightened my interest in the man, and has stayed with me. My professor said: “Why are you interested in my opinion? Go and read him, about him. Find for yourself what Gandhi is.” This wonderful reply by him initiated a process, one that continues.

The enigma called Gandhi has expectedly manifested itself in its various cinematic versions as well. To begin with, the first film to be made on the most famous Indian was, ironically, by a British. Interestingly, Richard Attenborough struggled for two decades to make that film. Most Indian filmmakers, I believe, would have given up. Gandhi was the most befitting tribute to the Mahatma. I can watch that movie any number of times.

Shyam Benegal’s Making of the Mahatma and Feroz A. Khan’s Gandhi-My Father went beyond the iconic image and explored more human, flawed side of the legend. I have seen the former only in parts. But Gandhi-My Father, in my opinion is a truly international, well-made film. Both these films fared extremely poorly at the Indian box-office. I also loved the way Gandhi was interwoven in the plot of Deepa Mehta’s Academy Award nominated Water, and the climax was a master-stroke. I have this strong feeling that hating Gandhi might be in fashion among Indians, but the international audience is still hugely fascinated by him. In Fight Club, when the protagonist and his partner are talking about which historic figure they would love to fight, Gandhi’s name works very well, approved by the characters in the scene and also by the audience in us. I believe, Lage Raho Munnabhai had a better chance at the Oscars than that year’s official entry – Rang De Basanti, although the latter, in my opinion, was a more powerful and path-breaking film.

This opinion of mine was strengthened today as I watched Road To Sangam – a film that merges fact and fiction and uses Gandhi more as a powerful idea than a plot element. Though with an honest intention, and a brave film to make, Road To Sangam works only in parts. It feels stretched, takes too long to set the premise and the conflict. And the shot taking and editing is amateurish. The film is saved by the realistic performances by Paresh Rawal and an underused Om Puri. Otherwise, all other performers, including the normally impressive Pawan Malhotra, fail to convince you. I must add however that the last half an hour of the film is truly affecting, but it has more to do with the idea than the execution. I must applaud the makers for deciding to make this film, rather than the work they finally put in. And I must recommend the film to you. What amazes me is the kind of recognition it received at international film festivals. Seems, lack of aesthetic quality is compensated by its idea, and it works for the foreign audience as long as it carries the tag called Mahatma Gandhi. Sadly, modern Indian popular culture has never been interested. My grandma says, about the evening when Gandhi was shot dead – even in a remote village in Bihar, no one had had their meals that night. Seems hard to believe. Almost everything associated by that man is.


  1. Maybe you missed Kamal Hassan's 'Hey Ram' (which for the most part, many, if any, remember as a film 'jis mein Shahrukh tha'), and Naseeruddin Shah's brilliant portrayal of the Man we are talking about, in it. I had watched it in the late nineties something. As far a I can remember vaguely, its a story of a man who is on a mission to kill our Man of the moment. No, its not about Godse, however, won't reveal anymore... Am not remotely any film critic, but as an audience, for me, as much as I have known (video/audio archives etc.), read and imagined the Man, Naseeruddin Shah's portrayal of Him is the closest I have ever come across (a tad bit better than Sir Attenborough's, for me)... You & mine opinions may differ widely, but do give that movie a try...