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Saturday, Nov 16, 2019

Gandhi Jayanti 2019: When Ben Kingsley, Naseeruddin Shah, Annu Kapoor played the Mahatma onscreen

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is one of the most popular historical characters to be featured in films. On Gandhi Jayanti, a look at actors who have played the Mahatma onscreen.

bollywood Updated: Oct 02, 2019 08:59 IST
On Gandhi Jayanti 2019, here is a primer on men who have played Gandhi onscreen including Ben Kingsley, Dilip Prabhavalkar and Naseeruddin Shah.
On Gandhi Jayanti 2019, here is a primer on men who have played Gandhi onscreen including Ben Kingsley, Dilip Prabhavalkar and Naseeruddin Shah.
         

If there is one character from history who has been the subject of a film or featured prominently as a character in one, then it has to be Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. With the exception of Bhagat Singh and Jawaharlal Nehru, no one historical character has managed such attention.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise as no other character in contemporary history has influenced the world as Gandhi has. From books and documentaries to full fledged feature films, Gandhi has been among the biggest influencers the world has seen.

In films, the first name that comes to mind when we think of the Mahatma is British actor Sir Ben Kingsley. Featuring in late Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, he delivered a performance so compelling that it may well be the closest people come to imagining the real man. In Bollywood films, Dilip Prabhavalkar’s Bapu in Lage Raho Munna Bhai too is fondly remembered.

On Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, here’s a look at the actors who played him onscreen.

Sir Ben Kingsley (Gandhi)

Ben Kingsley as Gandhi.
Ben Kingsley as Gandhi.

Be it Independence Day or Gandhi Jayanti, Doordarshan would often air this multiple Oscar-winning Indo-British film. Directed by Richard Attenborough, the film chronicles the life of Gandhi from his days in South Africa, through his non-violent, non-cooperation movement against the British Raj, the Partition of India, right up to his assassination in 1948. To say that Ben Kingsley aced the role would be a massive understatement -- he excelled as Gandhi. Not only did he copy the mannerisms and ways of the Mahatma, he seemed to have internalised his philosophy, which is why his performance was so riveting.

Naseeruddin Shah (Hey Ram)

Kamal Haasan’s Hey Ram starred Naseeruddin Shah as the Mahatma.
Kamal Haasan’s Hey Ram starred Naseeruddin Shah as the Mahatma.

Kamal Haasan’s alternate historical fiction deals with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. The film’s story is about Kamal’s character Saket Ram, narrating his life’s story from the 1940s and deals with his hatred for Gandhi, who he holds responsible for his wife’s death at the hands of Muslim mobs. He wants to kill him but later comes across Gandhi’s teaching and has a change of heart. Naseeruddin Shah essayed the role of Gandhi, even if the story is centred around Saket Ram.

Dilip Prabhavalkar (Lage Raho Munna Bhai)

Dilip Prabhavalkar as Gandhi in Lage Raho Munna Bhai.
Dilip Prabhavalkar as Gandhi in Lage Raho Munna Bhai.

This charming ode to non-violence has the apostle of peace guiding a local goon to goodness and love in a hilarious and heart-warming manner. Sanjay Dutt, playing Munna Bhai, who runs a small-time extortion business, meets Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in a library as he is preparing for a quiz on radio. The Mahatma senses that the extra hours in the library are in order to impress the radio jockey, played by Vidya Balan, whom Munna loves. The Mahatma offers helps if Munna agrees to follow his ways. Then begins a rip-roaring adventure, full of twists and turns. The Gandhi here is an affable character and playing it with aplomb was Marathi actor Dilip Prabhavalkar.

Rajit Kapur (The Making of the Mahatma)

Rajit Kapur as Gandhi.
Rajit Kapur as Gandhi.

Most depictions of Gandhi showcase the time when he was already the Mahatma. However, veteran director Shyam Benegal chose as his subject the early life of the Mahatma -- when Gandhi was a young man. It is based on the book by Fatima Meer, The Apprenticeship of a Mahatma, and deals with the 21 years of his life in South Africa. Playing a young Gandhi was Rajit Kapur, whose uncanny resemblance with the man is unmistakable.

Darshan Jariwala (Gandhi, My Father)

Darshan Jariwala as Gandhi.
Darshan Jariwala as Gandhi.

Here was another interesting film on Gandhi -- this time, focussing on the troubled relationship between Mohandas Gandhi with his elder son, Harilal. Produced by Anil Kapoor and directed by Feroz Abbas Khan, the film starred popular character actor and ad films artist Darshan Jariwala as Gandhi and actor Akshaye Khanna as Harilal. The film is reportedly based on the biography of Harilal Gandhi called Harilal Gandhi: A Life by Chandulal Bhagubhai Dalal.

Annu Kapoor (Sardar)

Annu Kapoor as Gandhi in Sardar.
Annu Kapoor as Gandhi in Sardar.

The Ketan Mehta directorial, Sardar, featuring Paresh Rawal as the iron man of India, Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, the film starred Annu Kapoor as the Mahatma. This film too was focussed on Patel, but no narration on the life and times of Patel can be complete without the mention of Gandhi and Nehru in it. It wasn’t for nothing that the trio formed the troika of the Indian National Congress, who would steer the ship called India through extremely difficult times.

Author tweets @mniveditatweets

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