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Gandhi Jayanti: Portrayal of Mahatma in movies, comics, rap battles and TV shows

Gandhi Jayanti: India is paying tributes to Mahatma Gandhi on his 148th birth anniversary.

india Updated: Oct 02, 2017 10:34 IST
Nisheeth Upadhyay and Prerna Madan
Nisheeth Upadhyay and Prerna Madan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Schoolchildren look at a picture of Mahatma Gandhi at ‘Mani Bhavan’, his Bombay residence from 1917 to 1934.
Schoolchildren look at a picture of Mahatma Gandhi at ‘Mani Bhavan’, his Bombay residence from 1917 to 1934.(Reuters)

Bollywood film Munnabhai MBBS wasn’t the only pop-culture art to take inspiration from Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s life and teachings.

References to Gandhi’s doctrines -- famously called Gandhigiri in the Rajkumar Hirani movie that starred Sanjay Dutt -- have long existed in fiction and modern consciousness. From books on the Indian leader’s relevance in modern times to tributes in state leaders’ speeches, Gandhi has found mentions across the world.

On this Gandhi Jayanti, here’s a look at the art and works of fiction on the Mahatma’s life that have, at times, taken creative liberty:

Gandhi, the movie

In 1983, Gandhi, a movie starring Ben Kingsley, won eight Oscars. Richard Attenborough, the director of the film, was quoted as saying: “It took me 20 years to get the money to get that movie made. I remember my pitch to 20th Century Fox. The guy said: ‘Dickie, it’s sweet of you to come here. You’re obviously obsessed. But who the f---ing hell will be interested in a little brown man wrapped in a sheet carrying a beanpole?’ I would have loved to have met that guy after the Oscars and told him to f--- off.”

The movie captures Gandhi’s journey as he returns from South Africa to lead non-violent campaign against the British in India.

According to a Scroll report, actor Surender Rajan has played Gandhi in four films: Rajkumar Santoshi’s The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002), Shyam Benegal’s Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2005), Carl Hindmarch’s TV film The Last Days of the Raj (2007) and the short film Gandhi: The Silent Gun (2012).

Theatre, music and lyrics

*Gandhi, The Musical: Last year, a musical was produced on Gandhi’s life. However, it wasn’t the first play to be made on his life – ‘Sammy’ and ‘Mahatma vs Gandhi’ are two others that have been created, according to Firstpost.

Writer-director Danesh R Khambata told Firstpost when he thought about how to tell Gandhi’s story in a way that it hadn’t been before, a Broadway-style musical seemed exciting. “It shows not just Gandhi in moments where he was leading the crusade for Independence, and in quieter, tender moments with his wife and son. It shows Gandhiin moments where he was unshaken by the Empire’s attempts to cowe him, and in moments where he is plagued by self-doubt,” he was quoted as saying.

*Propagandhi: A Canadian punk rock band, Propagandhi, creates music that is all about politics and rebellion. It boldly declared early on in its now two-decade-long career that it existed to antagonise, not to entertain. Each of the band’s albums -- from Less Talk More Rock to Supporting Caste and Failed States -- is said to be progressively darker.

Apart from pushing the traditional boundaries of music, the four-member band is a proponent of gay rights and veganism. There are reports that Nazi supporters often turn up at Propagandhi concerts to pick a fight with the band.

Sample the opening verses of Propagandhi’s track ‘Anti-manifesto’:

Dance and laugh and play. Ignore the message we convey.

It seems we’re only here to entertain.

A rebellion cut to fit. I refuse to be the soundtrack to it.

Hindi songs: In India, there have been several musical tributes to Gandhi. Here are a few tracks:

Gun Dham Hamare Gandhi Ji

Suno Suno Ai Duniya Waalo Bapu Ki Yeh Amar Kahani

Sabarmati Ke Sant Tune Kare Diya Kamal

Vaishnav Jan To Tene Kahiye

Gandhiji Ne Sabko

Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram

https://youtu.be/MoeC0JEEt9U

Television shows

*Supernatural: Season 5 of fantasy fiction TV series Supernatural – in which a duo of hunky brothers hunts down demons and spirits, and fight with Lucifer – took creative liberty with Gandhi’s portrayal. The episode ‘Fallen idols’ showed Sam and Dean Winchester fending off Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln among others in a wax museum. It wasn’t actually Gandhi -- the attacker was just a shape-shifting supernatural being that took the form of the wax statues.

*Clone High: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Bill Lawrence created a cartoon (not the kind for children) that imagined teenage selves of legendary icons in a high school. This show by MTV drew up younger versions of Gandhi, Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Cleopatra and John F Kennedy to parody teen dramas.

The TV show created a controversy in India. In 2003, 150 MPs threatened to go on hunger strike for Clone High’s depiction of Gandhi. While the show wasn’t screened in India, a newspaper report about it upset many in the country. The now-defunct website Grantland said in an article the show was “much too beautiful for this world”.

*Seinfeld controversy: The popular TV show Seinfeld invited criticism when it showed one of the lead characters talking to a woman, who claims she met Gandhi and had a love affair with him. Those who protested the episode said it used dialogues that insulted Gandhi’s stature.

TV shows South Park and Family Guy, too, portrayed Gandhi in ways that triggered objections in India. While Family Guy shows Gandhi as a stand-up comedian, a South Park character is shown to meet him in hell.

Hulk-like superhero avatar in graphic novel, and other books:

A recently released graphic novel had Gandhi as its lead -- but with a twist. ‘Gandhi: The Beast Within’ portrayed him as a superhero who fights against baddies including Adolf Hitler.

In the graphic novel, written by Jason Michalski and illustrated by Antonio Rojo, Gandhi comes across an alien power source in South Africa following which he turns into a ‘beast’ whenever he is uncontrollably angry – quite like The Hulk fury. While the novel shows him wanting to stick to his principles on non-violence, the allied forces use Gandhi against Hitler.

Another graphic novel, Gandhi: My Life is My Message, follows the leader’s life from his birth in Porbandar in 1869 to the moment he was shot dead in 1948, months after India got Independence.

Apart from his autobiography, My Experiments With Truth, there are several popular books on Gandhi. This website gives an exhaustive list of the books written on his life and work.

Epic Rap Battles of History: Gandhi vs Martin Luther King Jr

Ever wondered who would win in a battle of rap between Gandhi and civil rights champion Martin Luther King Jr? Comedy sketch artists Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele did in this popular web series.

The disciple and the student, Gandhi and King, rain hip-hop on each other to decide who among them is the better pacifist. It is said Martin Luther Jr was inspired by the Gandhian idea of tolerance and non-violence, which paved the way for the American civil rights movement.

Take a look at their arguments:

Gandhi:

I fought the caste system, but you still cannot touch this

Slumdog skillonaire, first name messiah

Raps so hot I spit yoga fire

Everything you preach, I said it first

You should just jot down these words, plagiarize my whole verse

Leave your thoughts on the door like the real Martin Luther

I’m not even thinking you can overcome this junior

Martin Luther King:

I’m the King of civil rights from city to suburbia

No shoes, no shirt but I’m still gonna serve ya

Make you swallow your words so you can break the fast

Then thank God almighty you can eat at last