Gandhi, My Father

24 Jul

When Karan Johar forgets to be a gossipy old English lady, he’s quite entertaining. Like he was this past Sunday when he invited Anil Kapoor and Akshaye Khanna on his show to talk about their forthcoming movie, Gandhi, My Father.

Produced by Kapoor and starring Khanna as Harilal Gandhi, the black sheep of the Gandhi family who drank himself to an early grave, Gandhi… is directed by debutant director Feroz Abbas Khan. And if you put any value in pre-release hype (um, full disclosure: I don’t) then this is going to be one heck of a movie.

In a way, I’d really like this movie to succeed. The subject of Gandhi has been done to death – negatively, positively, patriotically, hypocritically, critically… just think of an adjective. Chances are, it’d apply well to the topic. But Gandhi, My Father actually manages to bring something new to the table: here is a movie that not only brings up a facet of Gandhi’s that very few know or have thought about, but also enters that long neglected realm of Indian filmmaking: the biography.

When one thinks about how difficult it must have been to live with a person of unbending principles, whatever they might be, one automatically thinks of the immediate family. But the tag “Gandhi” has been so thoroughly taken over by the Nehru-Gandhis that when one thinks of that name, the Mahatma’s own family plays a distant second fiddle. At the most, we might think of Kasturba Gandhi, a woman who (arguably) chose to live and die by her husband’s principles, but what of his children?

Harilal, the eldest, is the most interesting of the lot. Some amongst you will remember the crop of movies that sprung up one year on the life of Bhagat Singh. There is a poignant scene in one them (they all tend to bleed together in my mind, which doesn’t speak well of any of them, I guess) in which the young Bhagat Singh, who left school to show his solidarity with Gandhi’s Non Cooperation Movement, is shattered to find that Gandhi’s reaction to the incident at Chauri Chaura means that he, like so many of his young contemporaries, has been left up a creek without a paddle.

Watching that movie, I remember wondering about Gandhi’s own children. If Bhagat Singh, growing up far from Gandhi direct sphere of influence, could feel such anguish and dismay, what would have been the reaction of Gandhi’s own family?

Well, Harilal, who wanted to become a barrister like his father before him, got the kibosh put on his education. No son of Gandhi would learn the Englishman’s law. Instead, he became an alcoholic, estranged from his family. Eventually he turned to Islam for solace but religion was apparently not the answer to his troubles. He died shortly after his father, his life lacking the kind of neat resolution we love to give fictional characters.

These are the kind of details that a lot of people would either like to forget about the Mahatma or would like to obsess over, depending upon their feelings for the man. But these are also the kind of details that humanize him. A lot of people forget that Gandhi was a living, breathing human being the same as any one of us. That’s what’s so great about him. That’s why biographies are so fascinating to read: they remind us that we all come from the same stock, what matters is what we do with it.

A number of people, like Ramachandra Guha, have written about the woeful lack of biographies in India, Gandhi (and to a much lesser extent, Jawaharlal Nehru) being the sole exception. But somehow this intense preoccupation with the Mahatma has not translated to the big screen.

Part of the reason might be the shadow cast by Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. It’s not exactly my favorite film but I can imagine the hesitancy in the heart of a filmmaker who knows his work will inevitably be compared to a mammoth movie that will forever carry upon its brow the stardust of an Oscar win.

Another factor might well be that any Indian who tackles the subject of the Mahatma does so with the full weight of his nation’s history on his shoulders. It’s a huge task. But according to all reports so far, Khan is a director who’s up for the challenge.

We’ll all find out this August 3rd.


Posted by on July 24, 2007 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, News, Video


13 responses to “Gandhi, My Father

  1. Tanay

    July 24, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    Amrita, Feroz would have definitely done his homework as his play “Mahatma vs Gandhi” has received critical acclaim at many places. You can try a neat post that came in last weekend’s Hindu Magazine.

    Also, was Gandhiji’s attitude towards his son more from heart and his being himself or was it because he had set the bar, the ideals and the parameters before the nation earlier and didn’t wish to deviate or digress from that.. Did you get my point ?

    Did the Father of the Nation, fulfill the role of the Father to his own family ?

  2. Amrita

    July 24, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    Tanay – oooooooh, that’s who this guy is! Of course, i’d heard of the play but i didnt put two and two together. thanks for telling me 🙂

    And yeah, i think he felt his entire family ought to be an example. You often see this with people who really believe in something above all else: it’s not really enough for them that they believe in it – the ones they love and perhaps more importantly the ones who love them, should also live by the same creed. By today’s standards, I guess Gandhi wasn’t too hot as a father, huh?

    My daddy is the best daddy! 😛

  3. apu

    July 25, 2007 at 2:15 am

    that should be an interesting movie. i remember watching a play some years ago, gandhi viruddh gandhi. wonder if its the same one being referred to above ?

  4. Amrita

    July 25, 2007 at 10:51 am

    Apu – yup, thats the play Tanay is talking about!

  5. kamlesh

    August 9, 2007 at 8:18 pm

    it seems to be a great movie by its promo and we will come to know about other aspect of father of nation gandhi about which we never thought and never knew. in all a great movie.

  6. Desigirl

    August 10, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    hmmm i saw the trailer for this one last week. I wanna see it! But that’s me – whenever I go in to the cinema, I am so taken up with every single trailer that I want to see them all!!!

  7. Amrita

    August 11, 2007 at 10:14 am

    Kamlesh & DG – the movie’s worth it for the performances but overall it sort of crawls along. You won’t miss much by waiting for the DVD. Unless you’re mad about Akshaye or something in which case go buy a ticket today!

  8. Desigirl

    August 11, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    Yeah Akshaye looks munchable, doesn’t he? Someone I know thinks he’s big time PHWOAR! and I remember ragging her silly but nowadays, I am slowly coming around, I guess. (Better than Jack N, I say!) 😉

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