By Rohini Mohan
'Gandhi, My Father’ directed by Feroz Khan (not the actor) and produced by Anil Kapoor is based on the play Mahatma vs. Gandhi – 1998 also directed by Feroz Khan. It explores the rather stormy relationship Gandhiji had with his oldest son, Harilal. Naseeruddin Shah and K.K Menon played the Mahatma and his son respectively in the play, while Darshan Zariwala and Akshaye Khanna play the senior and junior Gandhi in the film. I saw the play years ago and found it enthralling. Brought up in a patriotic family that was very much involved and immersed in the Independence movement, I was only ever exposed to one facet of the man– his Mahatma avatar. That the Father of the nation was a family man and actually someone’s Bapu never really struck me all those years; that he could have a personal life never even occurred to me. Up until then, in my eyes, the Mahatma was infallible, an ephemeral persona second only to God. We Indians have a habit of deifying our heroes; we put them on a pedestal, place a halo on their head and isolate them from reality. The play brought Gandhiji down to earth for me. I finally saw him for what he really was – ambitious, uncompromising, human. But this never interfered with my infinite admiration of his selflessness, his greatness, his vision and his many virtues. Neither the play nor the movie intends to color the Gandhi phenomenon in any way. It does bring out one sad truth though- while the great man had an entire nation eating out of his hands, the two people closest to him were not entirely convinced of his many principles, most of which were either stark black or pure white. Kasturba was strong and supportive and she stood by his side all her life. But I wonder whether she fully bought into his religious tolerance or his empathy with the untouchables. I think she was ok with the concept in general but was leery of it creeping into her own life. She did have her own upbringing after all, that had dinned certain societal rules into her head. Cleaning toilets was not something she could bring herself to do, and accepting a son converting to Islam from staunch Hinduism, she could not come to terms with. Gandhiji on the other hand practiced what he preached. He was willing, in fact happy, to accept his son, whatever faith he embraced, as long as it brought him peace. Harilal Mohandas Gandhi who is the central character of the play/movie has an ambivalent relationship with his father. Being the son of the Father of the nation is not an easy burden to bear and strength of character is clearly not a hereditary trait. He tries in all fairness initially to follow in his father’s footsteps, but feels thwarted by some of the uncompromising actions of his father. Resentment shapes the rest of his life and he ends up the thorn in his father’s side, abusing his name, letting him down and doing everything in his power to walk the opposite path. His life ends in loneliness and notoriety 6 months after his father’s death, and a nation that is grief stricken over the death of a Mahatma neither knows nor cares about the demise of his son. As expected and evidenced by the attendance at the theatres, this is not a movie that is slated to do well at the box office, targeted as it is at a very niche audience. It has a powerful plot, and is clean and well made with its share of poignant moments. However it is not as gripping as it could have been which rather disappointed me. It tends to drag a bit and all the dialogues are not super effective. (I loved General Jan Smuts’ farewell speech to Gandhiji in South Africa though; something like “I say goodbye with a sigh of relief for myself and a silent prayer for the British in India…!”). The casting is good, both Akshaye and Darshan are quite natural in their roles. In my opinion, though, Shefali Shah as Kasturba stole the show; amazing on cue emoting and no over the top moves. There is nothing objectionable in the movie for kids, but I would not recommend it, especially for kids who have not had an Indian education – is it really necessary for them to be exposed to Gandhiji’s tumultuous personal life before they fully understand how he shaped the nation’s history? If I were to rank all the Gandhi related movies I have seen, Attenborough’s Gandhi is on top, followed by (believe it or not), Lage Raho Munna Bhai and then Nine Hours to Rama and finally Gandhi, my father. I personally was much more moved and impacted by the play. If you have not seen the play, the movie is worth a watch – on DVD.