‘Gandhi, My Father’ – humanising heroes

It is an interesting coincidence that the new Bollywood film, Gandhi – My Father has been released days before the subcontinent celebrates sixty years of independence. This well made film revisits Gandhi’s personal life and his troubled relationship with his son Harilal who died the same year as his father.

I saw the film yesterday and it was deeply tragic and moving at the same time. The conflict between parenting and leading a nation was delicately handled by the director, Feroze Abbas Khan. Gandhi could transform India and was a Bapu for the world but Harilal suffered in this larger scheme of fate, history and politics.

Akshaye Khanna has proven his mettle with the right director and a larger than life role – he portrays the various moods and phases of his tragic life with an amazing ease. He is truly gifted. Darshan who plays the Mahatama is also excellent and the two wives are also the sensitive characters, who while secondary to this major relationship bring much depths to the drama.

Bollywood has finally broken several barriers; and it is refreshing to see that our neighbours are recognizing that their leaders were after all humans. And this humanity adds to their stature.

Hope we also learn from this trend and stop treating our founding fathers as deities. Amazing that Gandhi and Jinnah both had to compromise their personal lives over national interests. Jinnah’s daughter did not move to Pakistan; and their relationship also became most tragic once the Quaid was close to realising the dream of Pakistan.

Interestingly, the movie reiterates Gandhi’s famous quote where he confessed that there were two people whom he could not convince – his ‘Muslim friend’, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his own son Harilal.

The film has its weak moments – it becomes slow paced at times and loses focus as the demands of commercial cinema make the script meander. Another irritating issue is the constant effort of the film-makers to maintain Gandhi’s stature as Mahatama. The constraints can be appreciated given Gandhi’s legendary status in India. There are times when Gandhi does appear to be a bit insensitive to his son. However, his adherence to the national cause and keeping his personal and family interests subordinate to those of India and her people is highlighted throughout the narrative.

The backdrop is the Indian struggle for Independence and this by itself makes a great viewing. Of course, the historical narrative is straight from the Indian nationalist discourse and views the demands of Muslims from that perspective. This is understandable given the subject but it does irk one a little. Why can’t a more nuanced understanding emerge? After all, Mr Jinnah had agreed on a united India during the talks on Cabinet Mission. It is a sad fact of history that the Congress rejected the Cabinet Mission Plan and not the Muslim League. The film sounds a little simplistic when the narrator states that a pained Gandhi accepted partition to avoid further bloodshed! That may be true as well. History is not that linear as claimed but then this was not the theme of the film.

Overall, it is a touching film that should not be missed by those interested in quality cinema and history.

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