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Gandhi, my great grandfather

Tusshar Gandhi, the Mahatma’s great grandson who plays himself in Road To Sangam, rates it and other Gandhi films.

entertainment Updated: Jan 31, 2010 18:22 IST
Roshmila Bhattacharya

Road To Sangam

(2010)

Bapu

is not shown in the film but I’m sure it will still spark off a debate on the relevance of his philosophy, methods and beliefs in today’s India, as a counteraction to the prejudices and bigotry around.

Road To Sangam

was inspired by a true-to-life incident in my life. In ’97, I discovered an urn of

Bapu’s

ashes in the vault of a bank in Orissa. Another incident, unrelated to the one I just narrated, involved a Muslim mechanic, Hasmutullah, who repaired

Bapu’s

Ford truck.

The writer-director of the film, Amit Rai, brilliantly wove together the two incidents. The plot may not be historically accurate, because Hasmutullah did not repair the truck so that it could lead Bapu’s last procession, but it’s so convincing that I won’t be surprised if people start believing that that’s what happened.

I play myself in the film and appear with the urn as the procession makes its way through the streets of Allahbad towards the Sangam, where the ashes are immersed.

Gandhi My Father (2007)
Most of the other Gandhi films have portrayed Bapu as a public figure. Feroz Abbas Khan’s film that revolved around Bapu and his elder son Harilal, attempted to understand the effect of that public persona on the family man.

Darshan Jariwala won the National Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Bapu. He was good in certain scenes but overall, I don’t think, even he was convinced of the greatness of the man he was playing. His Gandhi was weak and overshadowed by Shefali Shah’s brilliant portrayal of Kasturba.

I’d also seen Atul Kulkarni playing the same role in the Marathi play, Gandhi viruddh Gandhi. Though he was much younger and most unlike Bapu, he brought him alive on stage. In my mind, I must have compared the two actors, their portrayal of the same man from the same perspective. Darshan fell short.

Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006)
I had told Raju (Rajkumar Hirani) to free Dilip Prabhavalkar of make-up but probably he felt that unless Dilip ‘looked’ like Bapu, the audience he was speaking to, would find it difficult to connect with him. I respect the decision and have to admit that Dilip’s Bapu was an expert portrayal.

Some Gandians believed that the film belittled Bapu and equated Gandhigiri with goondagiri and dadagiri. I don’t agree. For too long, we had deified Bapu, we needed to bring him down from the pedestal so that we could emulate him. In today’s world, we don’t need a Mahatma, we need Bapu. And Lage Raho Munnabhai gave us that.

It was a standout film in its ability to carry Bapu’s philosophy translated in the layman’s terms, to the masses. Its success lay in the fact that, of every 10 people who saw the film, three wanted to know more about Bapu.

Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara (2005)
A brilliantly made film, even though it revolved around a man suffering from dementia, and there’s no mention of Gandhi except in the last courtroom scene.

The title raised some hackles. A guy called up Anupam Kher and threatened to blow up the theatre if he screened the film.

Anupam calmly told him that if that happened, Gandhiji’s grandson, Tusshar, who was one of the guests, would be killed too. The detractor then tried to convince me not to watch the film. But I refused to react to a title. I wanted to see the film for myself before passing judgement. Technically, Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara is not a Gandhi film, I don’t feel the need to criticise it.

The Legend Of Bhagat Singh (2002)
In Manoj Kumar’s Shaheed, there was no mention of Bapu. But Rajkumar Santoshi’s The Legend Of Bhagat Singh and the other Bhagat Singh films released around the same time, brought him in only to portray him as a villain who connived to get Singh killed.

Probably, Santoshi and the other directors felt that Bhagat Singh was not heroic enough, so they needed to demean Bapu to raise Bhagat Singh’s stature. That was a grave injustice, not just to Bapu, but also to the martyr.

Hey Ram (2000)
Even though Bapu played only a small part, the film revolved around his life. And though I was associated with Kamal Haasan’s Hey Ram and played myself for the first time, I confess Naseeruddin Shah’s Bapu was one of the worst portrayals of the Mahatma that I’ve seen.

Naseer saab’s heart was not in the role and his Gandhi came across as a morose and depressed defeatist. But even in the last stage of his life, Bapu’s innate optimism was always much stronger than his disappointments.

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar (2000)
Jabbar Patel’s National Award winning film along with other bio-pics like Veer Savarkar (2001), Jinnah (1998) and Sardar (1993) portrayed Bapu as a frail, half naked fakir rather than a man with a strong resolve that saw him through the freedom struggle.

It was a hatchet job, intentionally done, with mediocre actors playing poorly sketched characters. Like Santoshi, probably these directors too weren’t convinced of the greatness of their central characters, so felt it necessary to dwarf Bapu.

The Making Of The Mahatma (1996)
Since an Indian director, Shyam Benegal, was at the helm, I was expecting a lot more understanding and Indianness from this film.

I was disappointed. Shyam babu, in his attempt to make an authentic historical, turned Bapu into a caricature. Even Kasturba’s vibrant personality didn’t come through.

Rajat Kapur won a National Award for his performance. Though he’s a good actor, in this instance, I think his character won over the jury rather than his histrionics. He was a good Gandhi but I’d expected him to be excellent.

Gandhi (1982)
As a biography of a public figure, it is one of my favourite Gandhi films. Competently made, well-packaged, it compressed 45 years of Bapu’s life into three-and-a-half hours. Sir Richard Attenborough put in a lot of effort and admirably managed to keep the viewer’s interests from flagging. But historically, the film was full of blunders or may be, intentionally creative liberties were taken to keep it within the time frame.

Ben Kingsley was utterly convincing as Bapu. I think it was the Indian side to him that helped him understand the character so much better.

Nine Hours To Rama (1963)
One of the first films on Bapu that was banned in India. I caught it and to this day, I regret seeing it.

It was an atrocious, C-grade film with Hollywood extras playing Bapu and Nathuram Godse. Factually inaccurate and melodramatic, the assassination scene had a bullet wound emitting a strange light that had Godse falling at the dying Bapu’s feet and begging for forgiveness. I wouldn’t recommend it.

POSTSCRIPT

I expect a lot more films to be made on Bapu. Several undisclosed aspects could lend themselves to a cinematic effort.

Most of the biographies start with him being thrown out of the first-class compartment of a train in South Africa and his subsequent struggles. But Bapu wasn’t born on the platform. A film on his childhood would make an interesting study. Also, one film that starts with him going to London to become a barrister and then heading to South Africa.

Nine Hours To Rama was a reprehensible film but the murder controversy it sought to unravel could make for a more perceptive film some day.

A biography of Kasturba would work too, since she walked shoulder-to-shoulder with Bapu from the age of 13 to 65.