So What Exactly Were Mahatma Gandhi’s Thoughts About Cinema?
Mahatma Gandhi was definitely no film buff. 
Mahatma Gandhi was definitely no film buff. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

So What Exactly Were Mahatma Gandhi’s Thoughts About Cinema?

You must have heard or read about Mahatma Gandhi’s views on a host of topics including nationalism, equality, education, swaraj, non violence, caste and so on. But what exactly did the Father of the Nation think about cinema?

Here’s a compilation from various archival newspaper articles, letters and speeches by Gandhi that throw light on his thoughts about films:

“I Have Never Once Been to a Cinema...”

“I have never once been to a cinema and refuse to be enthused about it.”
“I have never once been to a cinema and refuse to be enthused about it.”

25 November, 1926 Thursday
Ahmedabad
Young India, 25-11-1926

“But today my withers are unwrung even though a German friend tells me that a German paper accuses me of having promoted a film company. The innocent writer does not know that I have never once been to a cinema and refuse to be enthused about it and waste God-given time in spite of pressure sometimes used by kind friends. They tell me it has an educational value. It is possible that it has. But its corrupting influence obtrudes itself upon me every day. Education, therefore, I seek elsewhere.”

Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, The (Delhi, Publication Division, Government of India, 1965) Vol. 32, p. 84-85

24 March, 1927 Thursday
Mumbai and Poona
Young India, 24-3-1927

“You will avoid theatres and cinemas. Recreation is where you may not dissipate yourself but recreate yourself. You will therefore attend bhajan mandalis where the word and the tune uplift the soul.”

Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, The (Delhi, Publication Division, Government of India, 1965) Vol. 33, Item. 185, p. 185

2 June, 1927 Thursday
Nandidurg
LETTER TO HELENE HAUSSDING

“On the contrary, I know that overwork and terrific strain are just as apprehensible, even though they may be in a good cause, as a drinking-bout or visiting cinemas. The results of both are the same.”

Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, The (Delhi, Publication Division, Government of India, 1965) Vol. 33, Item. 425, p. 420

10 March, 1929 Sunday
SPEECH TO LABOURERS, RANGOON

“The cinema, the stage, the race-course, the drink-booth and the opium-den—all these enemies of society that have sprung up under the fostering influence of the present system threaten us on all sides.”

Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, The (Delhi, Publication Division, Government of India, 1965) Vol. 40, Item. 109, p. 125-26

30 April, 1931 Thursday

Borsad - {Fn. 13: Fox Movitone (New York) had some news reel shots at the same time.} Dalal, Chandubhai Bhagubhai. – Gandhi 1915 – 1948, A Detailed Chronology (New Delhi, Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1971 First Edition) p. 88

5 May, 1931 Tuesday

Gave in Hindi and in English his message for Khadi for an Indian Talkies Film.

Dalal, Chandubhai Bhagubhai. – Gandhi 1915 – 1948, A Detailed Chronology (New Delhi, Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1971 First Edition) p. 88

When Charlie Chaplin Requested a Meeting With Gandhi

Charlie Chaplin with Mahatma Gandhi.
Charlie Chaplin with Mahatma Gandhi.

22 September, 1931 Tuesday

(London: talked with Charlie Chaplin; place – House of Dr. Katiyal)

Gandhiji was told that Charlie Chaplin was anxious to meet him. Gandhiji had not heard of the great comedian, having had no sort of contact with the world of cinema. Gandhiji was told that Chaplin was a friend of the poor; that he lived in East End and mingled with the common folk and made them laugh. Charlie Chaplin accordingly called on Gandhiji on 22 September at the house of Dr. Katiyal, an Indian who had put his car at the disposal of Gandhiji throughout the period he was in London.

Gandhiji might have not heard of Chaplin but Chaplin had heard a good deal of Gandhiji and his charkha, and the very first question he asked Gandhiji was why he was opposed to machinery.

Gandhiji patiently explained how in India the peasants had to remain idle for six months every year. The charkha provided them occupation and enabled them to produce cloth for their own needs. All should produce food and clothing for their own needs. England resorted to mass production of goods and then had to look for markets outside England. It was plunder and an England engaged in plunder was a danger to the world. If India should take to mass production of cloth and produce textiles several time more than it needed for its own requirements how much greater a danger it would pose to the world?

“But supposing,” Chaplin asked, “India were today a free country like Russia and you could provide your unemployed villagers alternative work, would you still be opposed to machines? Would you not want that the hours of work should be increased?”

“I certainly would,” Gandhiji answered.

Source: Page No. 370-371 of Mahatma Gandhi Volume VI Salt Satyagraha The Watershed by Sushila Nayar.

May 12, 1932 Thursday
LETTER TO PREMABEHN KANTAK

“I don't know about the cinema, but stage performances have a place. For realizing God, the practice of non-attachment seems to me the best method. It includes everything.”

Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, The (Delhi, Publication Division, Government of India, 1965) Vol. 49, Item. 521, p. 428

February 12, 1933 Saturday
LETTER TO C. M. THAWARE

“Of cinema shows I understand but little, having never attended any. An attempt is already being made to induce the better classes to engage Harijans as domestic servants and I think it is coming.”

Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, The (Delhi, Publication Division, Government of India, 1965) Vol. 53, Item. 376, p. 278

March 29, 1934 Thursday
Today’s Details:
LETTER TO KASTURBA GANDHI

“In Ahmedabad children get headaches, lose power of thinking, get fever and die. It is on the decline now. The disease is caused by going to cinemas, etc.”

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, The (Delhi, Publication Division, Government of India, 1965) Vol. 57, Item. 340, p. 324

June 27, 1934 Wednesday
Today’s Details:
SPEECH AT WOMEN'S MEETING, AHMEDABAD

Held in the Krishna Cinema under the auspices of seven women's associations.

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, The (Delhi, Publication Division, Government of India, 1965) Vol. 58, Item. 135, p. 113, foot note. 1

“What Is this About Music and Cinema? Do They Wish to Turn the Congress Session Into a Felix Circus...”

Gandhi loved music but not films.
Gandhi loved music but not films.

September 4, 1934 Tuesday
Today’s Details:
LETTER TO MATHURADAS TRIKUMJI

“I got your letter. I chanced to see your writing on karmayoga only yesterday and glanced through it. I will read it now if I get time.

What is this about music and cinema? Do they wish to turn the Congress session into a Felix Circus or Barnum show? But, then, what can I say in this matter? I do love music, but everything is good in its place.

If the three or four days of the Congress session are crowded with such activities, the atmosphere of seriousness will disappear. Even if they wish to arrange such programmes, somebody may be given a contract for them. I am of the view, however, that no such programmes can be arranged at the place where the [nation's] parliament meets. But we have turned the Congress into a tamasha. Inclusion of genuine Indian music in a cent per cent swadeshi exhibition is legitimate. But only traditional instruments should be used in such a programme. I can see no room at all for a band. You may show this to Sardar. But if you wish to maintain discreet silence, you may do so. You must have heard from Sardar about the step I am contemplating. I will not, therefore, waste a few minutes of my time by writing about it here.”

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, (The Delhi, Publication Division, Government of India, 1965) Vol. 58, Item. 445, pp. 398-399

January 29, 1935 Tuesday
Today’s Details:
LETTER TO R. S. VIDYARTHI

“I am not interested in talkies industry. I have never attended a cinema in my life. I know [what] a harm it has done. Many of my friends tell me that it has an educative value. I can neither prove nor disprove that assertion.”

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, The (Delhi, Publication Division, Government of India, 1965) Vol. 60, Item. 158, p. 135

10 October 1935 Thursday

વર્ધા: આ દિવસો દરમિયાન, સ્ત્રીઓએ સિનેમા ફિલ્મમાં કામ કરવા વિશેના એક પ્રશ્નના જવાબમાં જણાવ્યું – હું કોઈ દિવસ સિનેમામાં ગયો નથી; મને આ ગમતું નથી; પણ હું તો ગામડિયો; હું શું કહી શકું? અલબત્ત કોઈપણ સુધારો સત્ય અને અહિંસા ઉપર રચાયેલો હોય તો એ મને ગમે.

[In these days someone asked to Mahatma Gandhi that should women work in cinema or not and he replied that I never been to cinema and I don’t like this but I am from village background so what can I say more, but I like all that activities which are based on truth and non-violence]

Source: Gandhijini Dinvari Gujarati by Chandubhai Dalal, Page No. 394, Foot Note No. 4

13 September, 1937 Monday

Segaon: INTERVIEW TO WILLIAM B. BENTON [An American journalist]

Have you ever seen an American movie or heard American jazz? These are our two most famous exports.

Mahatma Gandhi: No, no, I haven't.

He laughs again.

Mahatma Gandhi: There's a good story for you. Do what you can with it. I've never been to a moving picture.

Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, The (Delhi, Publication Division, Government of India, 1965) Vol. 66, Item. 161, p. 129

“I May Say that Cinema Films Are Often Bad”

Gandhi said he never listened to radio or watched cinema.
Gandhi said he never listened to radio or watched cinema.

April 3, 1942
TALK WITH AN AUSTRALIAN JOURNALIST

You will be surprised to hear that I have never listened to a radio, nor have I ever been to a cinema.

Journalist: Do you think these things are bad?

Gandhi: I will not say so. I may say that cinema films are often bad. About the radio I do not know.

Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, The (Delhi, Publication Division, Government of India, 1965) Vol. 76, Item. 4, p. 3

21 May, 1944 Sunday

Mumbai: Saw film named Mission To Moscow’ – at his place.

Source: Gandhijini Dinvari Gujarati by Chandubhai Dalal, Page No. 510

2 June, 1944 Friday

Mumbai: Saw film named RamRajya’ – at his place.

Source: Gandhijini Dinvari Gujarati by Chandubhai Dalal, Page No. 511

June 4, 1946 Tuesday

Mussoorie - On or about 4th Frederick Adolphus Gould manager and Thomas Dale and June Richmond, actors were fined in London 225 pound, 15 pound and 4 pound respectively for using unwarranted jokes about MKG in their performance.

Source: Gandhijini Dinvari Gujarati by Chandubhai Dalal, Page No. 542, Foot Note No. 3

“If I Was Made Prime Minister... I Would Close All the Cinemas and Theatres...”

May 27, 1947 Tuesday
TALK WITH SOCIALISTS

“Machinery does the work in very little time and that is harmful in every way, physically and economically. With so much leisure on hand, the people get busy in mischief, for, as the saying is, an idle mind is the devil's workshop. Or they waste their time in cinemas and theatres. Many people argue with me and try to convince me that the cinema has an educative value. But the argument doesn't appeal to me at all. For one thing, sitting in a closed theatre one feels suffocated. I had been to such a theatre only once, when I was a small child.

If I had my way, I would see to it that all the cinemas and theatres in India were converted into spinning halls and factories for handicrafts of all kinds. And what obscene photographs of actors and actresses are displayed in the newspapers by way of advertisement!

Moreover, who are these actors and actresses if not our own brothers and sisters. We waste our money and ruin our culture at the same time.

If I was made Prime Minister of the country, these would be the first things I would do: I would stop all machine-driven flourmills and restrict the number of oil-pressing factories but install the indigenous mills all over the country. I might not destroy the existing textile mills, but certainly would not help them in any way and, in any case, would not permit new ones to be set up. I would close all the cinemas and theatres, though I might, as an exception, permit exhibition of pictures of educational value or showing scenes of natural beauty. But singing and dancing I would stop completely. I have great regard for dancing and music. I love music indeed. I may even claim that I understand what is good music and what is not. But I would surely prohibit music and dancing which tend to pervert the minds of young men and women. I would stop the sale of gramophone records. That is, I would suggest to the Government that it should impose heavy taxes on all such life-killing activities.”

Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, The (Delhi, Publication Division, Government of India, 1965) Vol. 88, Item. 12, pp. 16-17

December 6, 1947 Saturday
LETTER TO VALJI G. DESAI

I read your article on the cinema just now. [Fn. 1: The article entitled "Reconstitute Film Censor Boards" appeared in Harijan, 14-12-1947.]

Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, The (Delhi, Publication Division, Government of India, 1965) Vol. 90, Item. 160, p. 186

December 27, 1947 Saturday
SPEECH AT PRAYER MEETING

“Why do you need a cinema here? Instead of this, you can perform the various plays and stage dramas known to us. The cinema will only make you spend money. Then you will also learn to gamble and fall into other evil habits. Those addicted to alcohol, ganja and bhang should give up these addictions.”

Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, The (Delhi, Publication Division, Government of India, 1965) Vol. 90, Item. 266, p. 307

“But There Should Be No Place for Cinema...”

January 1, 1948 Thursday

SPEECH AT PRAYER MEETING

“Even if liquor is sold in shops they should keep away from it as they would from poison. In fact liquor is worse than poison. Labourers drink in order to forget their domestic worries. Poison can only kill the body. Liquor can kill even the soul. One loses the ability to control one's action. I would advise the Government to close down liquor shops and to replace them by eating-houses where people could get pure and light food. Here they should distribute books from which people could learn something and they should provide to them some harmless entertainment. But there should be no place for cinema. This will help people to give up alcohol.”

Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, The (Delhi, Publication Division, Government of India, 1965) Vol. 90, Item. 308, p. 340

(Nilay Bhavsar is freelance researcher and translator based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. You can send him a tweet on @nbhavsarsafri.)

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