Mahatma Gandhi in Cinema – book review

By Sarkaritel August 10, 2020 07:25

Aditya Pareek

Cambridge Scholars Publishing has come out with a volume on Gandhi’s relationship with cinema and how he is depicted in it as opposed to what he was like in real life.

The text appears to be a derivative work from the author’s PhD thesis and thus has a very academic tone to it. A clueless library worker might shelve this as a reference book but in reality it is much more than that. From my initial impression the text appears to be an exercise in tackling niche historiography.

Countless books have been written about Gandhi, why is this one special you may rightly ask.

The answer is this text has a subject vector that is hardly considered a serious part of Gandhi’s history yet remains a very important factor in his life and how he was remembered after his death.

This alone cements the book’s place in any future researcher’s bibliography list.

The book is full of anecdotes one would rarely come across in everyday life like how Gandhi hated cinema as evident from: 

“Gandhi looked down on cinema, believing it promoted immorality and other vices and corrupted young minds, and that watching films was a sheer waste of hard-earned money. The father of the Indian nation, in a letter addressed to T Rangachariar, the then Chairman of the Cinematograph Committee, called cinema a “sinful technology” when the latter placed before him a questionnaire to find out his views on cinema in 1937.”

The book feels like a conformist’s worst nightmare and an answer to a deified cult of personality narrative, that many foreign film-makers chief among them Richard Attenborough’s colossus production Gandhi solidified in the public mind.

The author is however more appreciative of certain Indian film-makers like Shyam Benegal who in the author’s opinion managed to paint a closer portrait of Gandhi as he was in real life: 

“The biggest virtue of Making of the Mahatma is that it is much truer to historical facts than Attenborough’s grandiose production. It clearly avoids deifying the father of the Indian nation. Rajit Kapur’s Gandhi is a much more humane and flesh-and-blood character than Ben Kingsley’s.”

The author also seems to have a soft spot for Lage Raho Munnabhai as he confesses in the text that it gave a newfound relevance to Gandhi and his philosophy in our modern everyday lives.

“The Gandhi in Lage Raho Munnabhai is embodied in you, me, and all of us. We can discover him provided we start believing in truth, non-violence and Satyagraha, the weapons the father of the Indian nation invoked to challenge the British imperialists.”

In one of the final chapters the author also tries to tackle movies that did not directly feature Gandhi but had characters or plot that heavily drew from or adhered to his philosophy of goodwill towards all men and non-violence. The most striking reviews in this part that the author attempts, belongs to Dr. Kotnis ki Amar Katha, which deals with the story of an India doctor in China during WWII that draws a figure parallel to John Rabe, the German businessman and Nazi party member, in the same place at the same time.

In conclusion one can say the book is quintessentially Indian and has a lot of good scholarship backing the text and deserves a place in Gandhi’s shelf.

By Sarkaritel August 10, 2020 07:25