In ‘Mahatma Gandhi in Cinema’, Narendra Kaushik compares films on Gandhi with written literature in a bid to understand how much space Hindi cinema has given and done justice to Gandhi. Narendra Kaushik says his book analyses 100 years of Hindi cinema to explore Gandhi and Gandhian principles on the silver screen.
“Beginning from 1913 to 2013, I picked up films from each decade. Gandhi had adopted 11 principles and I took five out of those 11, namely, truth, non-violence, equality of religions, swadeshi and untouchability. I looked at films from each decade, read a lot of books on Gandhi, including The Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, My Experiments with Truth, and many more. Whatever I was looking for I read books related to those topics. Then I juxtaposed the principles shown in movies to books to draw my conclusions,” says Kaushik about the research that went on in writing of the book.
Working on a book on a man of Gandhi’s stature is no mean feat. And, that too, him in cinema spanning 100 years is another difficult task that Kaushik has undertaken. “I must have seen more than 50 films from Hindi cinema along with reading a lot about Gandhi and works by him as well. But I also looked at Gandhi by Attenborough in which Ben Kingsley played Gandhi. Even though it was an English film, it was financed by an Indian agency,” Kaushik informs.
These films, Kaushik enlightens, were divided into three parts: Biopics or semi biopics, films on Gandhi’s principles and films in which Gandhi made an appearance. The first category includes films like Gandhi, Shyam Benegal’s Making of the Mahatma and Gandhi My Father. But these are semi biopics in the sense that the movies highlight only a particular aspect or section of Gandhi’s life and hence should be called semi biopics.The other is Gandhi as a character in films on other historical personalities like Veer Savarkar, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, B R Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh and even Lage Raho Munna Bhai— which had Gandhi as a character. And then Kaushik says he looked at films based on each of his five principles like Naya Daur, Phir Subah Hogi, Shriman Satyavadi, Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani, Do Bheega Zameen, Do Aankhen Barah Haath, Sujata, Achoot Kanya and several others.
Having done so much research and seen so many movies, it’s difficult not to ask the most obvious question: Which was his favourite and which does justice to Gandhi? “Lage Raho Munna Bhai,” pat comes. “There were a lot of films made on Gandhian principles between 30s and 60s. From late 60s to mid-70s with the arrival of superstars like Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan, Gandhi exited cinema. Lage Raho… kind of resurrected Gandhi and reintroduced him to the younger generation. Though the film dumbs down Gandhi’s message, but it reaches the masses. There are a number of films like Satyagraha, but they don’t do justice to the man himself as Lage Raho does,” Kaushik adds.
In fact, Kaushik points out at another popular film, the Shah Rukh Khan-starter Swades, which does justice to Gandhian principle. “Gandhi always wanted villages to be independent and self-reliant and this film highlights that well,” Kaushik says.
Be it setting up a hydroelectricity plant or encouraging education for all children at the same time trying to eliminate caste divide, the film does justice to his principles. Ask Kaushik why Gandhi and cinema, and he says, “Because there’s nothing bigger than cinema in India. And if you talk of politics, Mahatma Gandhi was the numero uno in politics at least in pre independent India.”