Portrayal of Gandhi in Cinema: An Analysis

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Sonali Das


Satyajit Ray believed Indian cinema needed an icon, uniquely Indian, who would give us a distinct identity. In course of time, Gandhi came to be seen as an inspiration who became a popular subject for cinema, in India and abroad. The ideas of Gandhi and Gandhism are popular subjects for the visual narratives. While Gandhi's life and work fascinated filmmakers around the world, Gandhi considered cinema as “evil” and was sceptical about its influence over the masses. In his lifetime, Gandhi saw only one film, Vijay Bhatt's Ram Rajya (1943). He refused to meet Charlie Chaplin, the then greatest star, calling him 'just a buffoon'. Even though Gandhi did not have a high opinion of cinema, film industry can be considered to be the most secular industry. The films of those times promoted nationalist fervour and spread humanitarian values, the same ideals Gandhi believed in and preached. It is interesting to note that even though Gandhi is the Father of our Nation, the first two films on Gandhi were produced by the Westerners, i.e Nine Hours to Rama (1963) by Mark Robson, and Gandhi (1982) by Richard Attenborough. Further the star cast involved actors mostly from the Britain or from the West. Indian producers and directors considered a film on Gandhi to be a risk. Even Nehru was of the opinion that the Government was not fit enough to make a film on Gandhi and there was lack of competent people to do so. But after the mega success of Attenborough's Gandhi, there was a big spurt of Indian film production on Gandhi.

Portrayal of Gandhi in films is a strategy for marketing Gandhian philosophy and in disseminating different aspects of Gandhi unexpressed before. There is plurality of expression of Gandhian philosophies in the visual medium like cinema. My paper makes a humble attempt to analyse different facets of Gandhi's life as portrayed in two films, one directed by a foreigner and another by an Indian. Those two films are Attenborough's Gandhi (1982) where Gandhi is presented as a national hero who agitated against the British using his dual weapons of Ahimsa and Satyagraha and attained freedom for India; and Rajkumar Hirani's Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006) where Gandhi is depicted in a novel way in a comic pattern to impart Gandhian philosophy at the contemporary age.

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