5 Films that Reimagined Gandhi on the Big Screen

What do Anil Kapoor and Richard Attenborough have in common? Gandhi!

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Cinema
5 min read
Capturing the life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in cinema.

How do you pack all the various aspects, complexities, influences and nuances of a life as rich as that of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s into a 2-hour film? The makers of the ambitiously mounted Gandhi directed by Richard Attenborough solved the impossible task with a smart disclaimer at the start of their film.

It read:

No man’s life can be encompassed in one telling. There is no way to give each year its allotted weight, to include each event, each person who helped to shape a lifetime. What can be done is to be faithful in spirit to the record and to try to find one’s way to the heart of the man...
Disclaimer before the film ‘Gandhi’ (1982)

While there have been several films that attempted to record Gandhi’s life, his philosophies and politics, here are 5 memorable ones.

Ben Kingsley in <i>Gandhi.</i>
Ben Kingsley in Gandhi.

Gandhi My Father

Darshan Jariwala and Akshaye Khanna in <i>Gandhi My Father.</i>
Darshan Jariwala and Akshaye Khanna in Gandhi My Father.

Mahatma Gandhi had reportedly famously said that the greatest regret in his life was the two people he could never convince - Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who founded Pakistan and his own son Harilal Gandhi.

An exploration of Gandhi’s troubled relationship with his eldest son Harilal, Gandhi My Father (2007) was a rather an unusual home production for actor Anil Kapoor to take up as a producer. Kapoor was looking to go international, but the film just collapsed at the box-office. Darshan Jariwala played Gandhi, while Akshaye Khanna stepped into Harilal’s shoes but the tension and drama in their relationship just didn’t crackle up the screen. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the film bravely attempted to retell an untold story of Bapu’s life.

Popular film critic Rajeev Masand put the blame squarely on director Feroz Abbas Khan for making Gandhi My Father a “boring history lesson that put you to sleep at school”. Ouch!

The Making of the Mahatma

Rajit Kapur and Pallavi Joshi in <i>The Making of the Mahatma.</i>
Rajit Kapur and Pallavi Joshi in The Making of the Mahatma.

Shyam Benegal’s 1996 film The Making of the Mahatma (1996) focused mostly on Gandhi’s early life - his 21 years in South Africa. The film was based on Fatima Meer’s book The Apprenticeship of a Mahatma. This was the first major film on Mahatma Gandhi since Richard Attenborough’s Oscar winning film Gandhi - the comparisons would be inevitable. But as Benegal said in an interview later, he wasn’t worried, “My film in some ways was the first part of his film. His film dealt with Gandhi as Mahatma. Mine was about Gandhi who was about to become Mahatma.”

Benegal’s favourite Rajit Kapur played Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi here while Pallavi Joshi took on the role of Kasturba. The Making of the Mahatma picked up two National Awards - Best Film in English and Best Actor for Rajit.

Hey Ram

Kamal Haasan as Saket Ram comes face to face with Gandhi in <i>Hey! Ram.</i>
Kamal Haasan as Saket Ram comes face to face with Gandhi in Hey! Ram.

Perhaps the most complex film with Gandhi as part of its narrative, Kamal Haasan’s Hey! Ram (2000) has to be seen and read between the lines. The basic story revolves around Saket Ram (Kamal Haasan) who becomes a militant Hindu after his wife is gang raped and killed in Kolkata in the riots just before Partition. Saket’s restless mind is convinced by the fundamentalist Hindu ideologue Abhyankar that Hindus are at war against Muslims and Gandhi. Saket is chosen to kill Gandhi, but he has a change of heart towards the end of the film. Naseeruddin Shah dons Gandhi’s trademark khadi for this film directed by Kamal Haasan himself.

Lage Raho Munna Bhai

Sanjay Dutt and Dilip Prabhavalkar in <i>Lage Raho Munna Bhai.</i>
Sanjay Dutt and Dilip Prabhavalkar in Lage Raho Munna Bhai.

Arguably the most endearing and memorable film with Gandhi at the centre of all the action. Rajkumar Hirani’s Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006) reintroduced Gandhian principles to a whole new generation dubbed as Gandhigiri. The makers served ahimsa, satyagraha, non-cooperation, humility, honesty - Bollywood ka tadka laga ke and it sold. Sanjay Dutt reprised his role as the gangster Munna (after Munna Bhai MBBS) who sees the spirit of Gandhi and is prompted to follow Bapu’s teachings. Noted Marathi actor Dilip Prabhavalkar played the Father of the Nation in this 2006 blockbuster.

A critical and commercial hit, Lage Raho Munna Bhai not only won 4 National Awards, it also became the first Hindi film to be screened at United Nations. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s greatness was deftly crafted into these lyrics - Bande Mein Tha Dum, Vande Matram!

Gandhi

Ben Kingsley in and as <i>Gandhi.</i>
Ben Kingsley in and as Gandhi.

In 1983, at the 55th Academy Awards, Steven Spielberg’s brilliant sci-fi fantasy drama ET lost to a film that was rooted in reality - Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982). Nominated for 11 awards, the biopic swept the Oscars that year with 8 wins including - Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Ben Kingsley.

Comparing the film to classics such as Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, the late Roger Ebert described Gandhi as “the sort of rare epic film that spans the decades, that uses the proverbial cast of thousands, and yet follows a human thread from beginning to end: Gandhi is no more overwhelmed by the scope of its production than was Gandhi overwhelmed by all the glory of the British Empire.”

I remember seeing the film as a kid, and decades later Ben Kingsley still remains etched in my mind as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi even more than the real Bapu himself. This one is not to be missed.

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