In the days when finding Pokémon, addressing Facebook challenges, sending Good Morning messages on What’s app groups weren’t tasks that required our immediate and utmost attention, life appeared easy. There was nothing that our country could offer in terms of entertainment in the early 90s. Globalization and privatisation were yet to display their economic and social might.
In such a scenario, weekends were joyous days that we looked forward to, not for the ‘make my trip getaways’ but because they brought with it – ‘the joy of nothingness’. Weekends were a break from tedious school routines, a time to catch up with friends, play, get hurt, fight with siblings, complete school assignments and all this in the tiny confines of our rooms. Even further surprises came in the form of holidays ‘otherwise’ (national, festival, religious, bank etc.). Holidays that our country is so generously bestowed with.
I always waited for the 15th of August. It was one of the first holidays that came along soon after the start of our school session. While my friends eagerly jostled to find their way in the Independence Day celebrations at school, I merely basked in the jingoistic overtones of the day by indulging in everything mundane (the joy of nothingness!).
This joy of nothingness on our nation’s Independence Day continued until I chanced upon Richard Attenborough’s GANDHI. One of those films, quite proudly, telecasted by DD on every national holiday. “Don’t run around the house and sit down and watch what Gandhiji has done for our nation” was how my mother lured me into watching the movie.
And so it began, the journey of a man so closely intertwined with the fate of his countrymen. Silence prevailed in the house until Godse’s gunshots provided a rude awakening. The film had left an impact, a deep one, and Attenborough had done his job!
I thought about the film. The first time, several times after that, and continue to do so even now. It served as an inspiration, invoked not by Gandhi, the Mahatma, and the exceptional nature of our nation’s freedom struggle, but the manner in which the film was made.
GANDHI was Attenborough’s dream project that began after he received a phone call from an Indian Diplomat in the UK, urging him to make a film on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The idea, that emerged in the early 60s, received Nehru’s encouragement and support. Despite being backed by the Prime minister himself, the film got rolling years (18 it is!) after the idea was first conceived. And there began a monumental task of (re) creating the life of a man who was a Mahatma, for some, and for some, Bapu.
Biopics are not easy and require intense research and for GANDHI, this came in the form of trunks filled with books. Books written on Gandhi and India’s history of the freedom struggle. In an interview, Rohini Hattangadi, who essayed the role of Kasturba mentioned, that every time there was a query on a certain historical fact, sometimes as small as ‘whether Gandhi wore a Janeyu or a string of Khadi around his neck, what was his caste, how did he walk’, the book trunk and a an expert came to the rescue. What followed was hours of research unearthing answers to the insurmountable questions that the cast and crew were confronted with at every stage of filming. (A tip which could perhaps be used by some of our film makers – that period films require serious research and not just dramatic sets and dance numbers)
This research translated on the screen through the remarkable performances by Ben Kingsley, Saeed Jaffrey, Roshan Seth and a plethora of budding actors, who were either students of the prestigious National School of Drama or were at the start of their acting careers. These included – Amrish Puri, Alok Nath, Om Puri, Mohan Agashe, Pankaj Kapur, Neena Gupta, Supriya Pathak, Alyque Padamsee and many more! One can’t also miss Ravi Shankar’s melodious music.These efforts culminated in 8 Oscar wins and of course worldwide appreciation.
I wake up to GANDHI every Independence Day (or even Republic Day or Gandhi Jayanti). How Gandhi, the person, has influenced me, are writings reserved for another blog. However, GANDHI, the film kindles a unique spirit. It urges me to think, of the man and his times. It instills within me a sense of tenacity, to achieve a form of perfection that is not just backed by material comforts but by passion, spiritual connect to the subject at hand and of course the willingness to get to the crux of the matter.
So, if you’ve not yet given in to the pleasures of the long weekend, then wake up to GANDHI this Independence Day, not to revel in the spirit of patriotism, but simply to get inspired by a masterpiece!