Mahatma Gandhi in Cinema: A Book Review

By Aditya Pareek. Dated: 6/28/2020 12:52:01 AM

“As it turns out Gandhi’s ideals of non-violence and reconciliating enemies came under major strain when Pakistani army men in the guise of Tribals invaded Kashmir in 1947. The attack offers a nuanced glimpse on Gandhi’s concept of on non-violence and he ended up following defender versus aggressor theory to reach a conclusion.”

My first thoughts on picking up Dr. Narendra Kaushik’s book “Mahatma Gandhi in Cinema” were to find references to Gandhi’s stance and effect on the Kashmir issue.
As it turns out Gandhi’s ideals of non-violence and reconciliating enemies came under major strain when Pakistani army men in the guise of Tribals invaded Kashmir in 1947. The attack offers a nuanced glimpse on Gandhi’s concept of on non-violence and he ended up following defender versus aggressor theory to reach a conclusion. He supported Indian action against the infiltrators because India happened to be a defender.
Dr. Kaushik excels foremost because his prose is lucid, academically sound and unbiased. However, one can’t help but notice the admiration the author has for his subject even when he leaves no stone unturned to show us all the caveats of Gandhi’s personality “warts and all” as depicted in cinema.
The author manages to paint a picture covering all bases but it becomes clear he has taken an exploratory approach instead of a cynical/critical one, a major cause to compliment him and something very few scholars do in this day and age.
The author appears inspired by the larger than life personality of Gandhi and has given us a qualitative analysis, exploring whether filmmakers have been able to do justice in their depiction or have they reconciled deifying him which has been the precedent around the world.
As a bibliophile and a devourer of tomes, it is important for me to put Dr. Kaushik’s work into perspective. If you are looking for something as dreamy as William T Volkmann or Ron Chernow’s maximalist prose with little factual information then this isn’t the book for you. However, if you enjoy Alex Von Tunzlemann’s subject matter of histories filled to the brim with dependable qualitative analysis then this book is right up your alley.
Moving onto the chapters of the book one has to admire the editorial care the author has taken in citing his sources and the way he has stratified his subject matter to present a thoroughly readable order for the most laymen of readers who might have a casual interest in the subject and just happened to pick it up.
Cinema: A sinful Technology: The author has done a great job of historiography piecing together accounts of Gandhi’s hatred and scepticism for Cinema.
A product of his epoch the Mahatma cannot be held to the progressive values of today’s modern world as several things in Dr. Kaushik’s account indicate.
Above all the author’s narrative manages to portray the inherent contradictions in the “human condition” that Gandhi with all his grandeur and cult of personality was no stranger to.
I especially find the author’s qualitative assessment about the lacking impact of cinema on the masses, pre-independence, interesting, which may have been one of the reasons why Gandhi had such a discounting attitude towards cinema and didn’t shy away from calling it a vice on par with gambling and alcohol.
Missing Mahatma In Movies And His Resurrection In The 21st Century: The author has interestingly examined the impact of more recent films like “Lage Raho Munnabhai” which spawned a new way of protesting for the average dissident in India at a time when Gandhi and his ideals had almost faded into obscurity at the back of the mind for the masses in my opinion.
Gandhi, The Protagonist: The author has undertaken an admirable comparative analysis that tries to analyse the factual history of Gandhi’s life as written by historians and historiographers and compare it to narratives by filmmakers ranging from Richard Attenborough to Feroz Abbas Khan; and draws the conclusion that every time the subject of Gandhi has been taken up it has only resulted in a piece that adds to the Mahatma’s lore.
Gandhi In Cameos: The author tries to give us a comprehensive view of the various cameos in movies directly revolving around the Indian Independence movement or those which have some connection to Gandhi that features a cameo from him in indirect ways (e.g. a manifestation of Gandhian thought in the titular character’s psyche in “Lage Raho Munnabhai)”. The author has done the readers a great service in giving us vital commentary and discussion he cites from immaculate literature on the topic that put things in perspective about all the cameos and how certain filmmakers have taken liberties with artistic license in portraying Gandhi.
Through this the author has managed to show us that as a consequence of being interpreted differently and not being the titular protagonist (in some cases relegated to mere couple of scenes) Gandhi is somewhat diminished to proliferate the titular character’s stature. So, in certain cameos artistic license by the filmmaker does present us with the largest gulf between fact and fiction.
Comparative Analysis: In my opinion the best chapter of the book the author has put the meat of his analysis in tackling abstract concepts which is never easy and I must say the author has blown me away with the attention to detail and with the depth of his knowledge. The chapter has sub-sections that explore the core concepts of Gandhi’s philosophy including truth, non-violence, swadeshi, untouchability and equality of religions, with each subsection the author dives deep putting chunks of dialogue and songs through the scanner that has parallels or direct quotes from the writings of Gandhi and gives us an analysis that although pragmatically only has five films per subsection but does more than illustrate the soul of Gandhi in these derivative works that owe their existence to Gandhi’s thought.
If I had to pick one film that the author’s analysis floored me enough that I watched it first chance I got then that would be “Satyakam”.
Reading through the entire text I can say for a fact that this is one of the most unique qualitative analysis I have come across regardless of genre. this book is nothing short of a tour de force that will remain significant for generations to come.

 

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