Movie Review: Gandhi, My Father

Rating: 9 on 10. 1 point deducted for the last 20 minutes which are a little slow.

Harilal giving an apple to Ba at train station

The movie is not about Gandhi – the father of the nation. Its about Gandhi, the failed father of a failed son. The greatness of this movie is not in the greatness/Gandhi surname of its protagonists, but the fact that you come out of this 140 minute session without blaming either of the two. Coupled with some great performances from Akshaye, Darshan, Shefali and Bhoomika, this movie is an extremely sensitive portrayal of an issue which could have ignited quite a few factions in the society. However, having gone looking for good acting and some nice controversy (oh yes, I was expecting that), I came out having seen an excellent movie, directed with photographic finesse, enacted with artistic excellence, and consciously staying away from controversy while communicating everything the storyteller wanted to say.

The relationship between the Father and the Son is best described in a shot of the movie – Harilal reaches South Africa. Gandhiji could not go to the port to receive him. His retort – itne kaam hai aur waqt itna kam. Next dusk, early morning, Harilal goes to meet Mahatma, touches his feet and sits next to him. It’s a shot where only the silhouettes are shown and you can see an older but perfectly straight Mahatma Gandhi sitting next to a younger but slightly slouched/bent over Harilal. That posture, that subtlety, defines the relationship and the kind of people the two were.

Now, I might inviting the ire of a lot of people (critics, bloggers) who would call the movie drab, slow, unauthentic, lacking details, etc etc., but I guess I am entitled to my opinion.

Unlike many who love or hate the Father of the Nation in totality, I still have mixed feelings about Gandhiji. I respect him for being one of the greatest leaders of all times, and for bringing the entire (well, almost) nation under one philosophy. But at the same time, I don’t consider him God who could not have made mistakes. I do agree with some of the views of the nation paying a price for some of his decisions. That said, it does not take away all that he did this for a nation which comes together only for a cricket match or a war.

Anyways – the movie is about Harilal, Mahatma Gandhi’s son, and his relationship with his father, who incidentally, was the Father of the Nation. Its not about Gandhi family. Its not about the three other sons of Gandhiji. Neither is it about Kasturba Gandhi (Ba), or Gulab (Harilal’s wife). They exist in the movie as supplements to the relationship between Gandhiji and Harilal. And to that extent, full marks to the director for being so focused on what he wanted to show.

Direction is good, albeit slow at places. But lets not forget that this movie could not have had singing dancing the way run of the mill movies have. Neither a deep exploration of relationships is best shown at a rocket pace (remember? The “Art Movies” of yesteryears).

Its definitely acting where the movie scores a home run. Akshay and Darshan are phenomenal in their performances. Akshay continues to be one of the most underrated actors of the industry. The way he essays a character is quite understated and restrained. And that’s what makes him so lovable. Despite the fact that Harilal does come across as an idiot by the end of the movie, you don’t come out of the theatre hating him. You feel pity for him.

The surprise package, surely, is Darshan. I hadn’t seen a lot of him. I had no idea how good or bad an actor he is. I remember him from comedy serials, where he played his part well. But this movie marks his coming of age (high time 😉 ). Now, Gandhi, as a character, is not the easiest to play. From what I understand, and what I had imagined Mahatma Gandhi to be, Darshan did bring it to life. Gandhiji for me – perpetual smile/amusement/wonder, the ease with which he went about handling the most difficult of circumstances, his walk, his proud personality inside a (seemingly) frail body – I could feel that Darshan has done justice to his character.

Even Shefali Chaya as Kasturba Gandhi and Bhoomika Chawla as Gulab Gandhi have performed brilliantly. Their silences and agony tear you apart at times.

My endnote on this movie – If you have the sensibility of keeping your emotions for Gandhiji (as the Father of the Nation) aside, while evaluating what human relationships are all about, you should definitely see this movie. If you are looking for some mudslinging on Gandhiji/Harilal, then this is not the movie for you. This movie is just a reflection of a proverb from Indian mythology– one of the heaviest burdens to carry on your shoulders is that of your father’s fame.

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About Amit
Conventional, boring, believer, poet, Shayar (to be precise), lover of music, musical instruments, and all that can be called music (theoretically or metaphorically), jack of all master of none, more of a reader less of a writer, arbit philosopher, foolish debater.. and many more such things.. like so many people!

8 Responses to Movie Review: Gandhi, My Father

  1. Sriganesh R says:

    Hi,
    I agree with you on the movie. I also felt it was a great movie with all leads actors giving stupendous performance.
    I have a different take. Do visit my blog. Let me know your thoughts.
    http://mystupidities.blogspot.com/2009/11/gandhi-my-father-maslows-theory.html
    Regards,
    Ganesh

  2. Pingback: Gandhi, My Father | DesiPundit

  3. Amit says:

    @Dunbar – Good to see you back! 🙂 Welll.. I liked Guru as well.. so you can beat me to death for that 🙂 but yeah! This movie is far better.. and it did leave me speechless too!

    @Others – please! I dont intend to make this post a book on Gandhi and Gandhism!

  4. hi says:

    interesting post. gandhi was inspired greatly by the gita, though he studied man major religions and saw unity in them all. check out this site about mahatama gandhi and the bhagvad gita”> at http://www.gitananda.org

  5. deepdowne says:

    Dear webmaster of gandhism,

    I had a look at the website of gandhism of which you have placed a link in your comment. What I understood from the site is that:
    1. those who maintain the site believe that Gandhi doesn’t deserve to be exalted to the position of a messiah, prophet or god as people around the world have done.
    2. to prove this, the site points out various snippets of literature in which Gandhi himself describes the wrongs he has committed.

    Now, let me tell you that I agree with point-1. he doesn’t deserve all the great honours that the world has blindly bestowed upon his personality. Not so much or in the way as is the case today. he himself says in his autobiography ‘the story of my experiments with truth’ that he hated the title ‘mahatma’ attached with his name, because he never thought that he deserved that title. He was not a god, but a mortal, a plain human being like you and me. But he believed in certain principles which he thought to be right(which you and me may not consider right) and strived hard to live by those rules imposed on him by himself. Non violence and truth are two of those principles. He believed that it is only through these principles that he could achieve his greatest objective in life —self realization. But he never thought or told that he had been totally successful anytime in living by his principles. He was rarely ashamed in admitting the wrongs he had committed in his life. Non violence, truth etc. were some of the principles he believed to be of the most important for a person to be really successful, and he struggled really hard to live by those rules, but he never claimed that he was fully successful in being non violent and truthful. He was only trying hard to be truthful and non violent as much as he could but being a mortal like you and me he had to go through situations in life when he had to make a compromise of which he is never ashamed to disclose. Apart from truth and non violence, there were a lot of other principles which he strived to hold fast to. I personally don’t believe his principles were really great. I think that most of his principles were simply foolish. But he always tried his best to cling to the principles he believed to be right, regardless of if it was right in the eyes of anyone else, in the process inviting misery for himself and his dear ones. The titles bestowed upon him are the mistakes of the people, not his. You have to blame the people who have blindly given him a name greater than he deserved. It’s not his fault if someone called him a messiah or compared him with Buddha or jesus. He himself wouldn’t have liked it. Why be furious at him if some people respect them with whatever titles they feel like? It’s the people who are to be blamed if you like to blame.

    Now, most of the things alleged against Gandhi is from the period of his life in south Africa. And he himself has given a vivid picture in his autobiography as to how immature he was. he was a fresh graduate in law when he went to south Africa. He didn’t go there to fight against oppression. He went there to pursue a job to earn money. Fighting against oppression came later. When he went there, he was of the thinking that he was an educated man now, a graduate, and therefore everyone should respect him. He was indeed proud of his position, and everywhere he went he demanded due respect that was supposed to be given to an educated person. He was a youth just out of his college, a fresh graduate, with all the immature fancies of a young guy just stepping on to the first rungs in the ladder of life. And if he has called the kaffirs low, it was because he was indifferent to them, he was more bothered about the plight of Indians in south Africa who were treated as slaves. If he describes kaffir as low, he was simply ‘quoting’ in a way the attitude their government had to them. The black africans’ government itself treated them as inferior. And Gandhi didn’t want Indians too to be treated low like the kaffirs. He was initially indifferent as to how the government treated their own citizens. He was selfish for his own compatriots. He was not interested in bothering about the plight of the kafirs. He was adamant and stubborn in his struggle for the cause of the Indians in south Africa. But still he was a proud man. He was not ready to stoop to the low level even of the uneducated Indian labourers. He thought he was superior to them as he was an educated professional unlike them. He had not yet become at the time the half-naked fakir who abandoned his three-piece suit and embraced the costume of the lowliest of the lowlies, the poor. He was proud of his English costume. It was only gradually that he came to be exposed to various religious and belief systems and philosophies and principles. And he was only working as a barrister, and nobody in India knew about him. He had not become the leader the world knows of today. He was unaware of Indian politics. He respected and supported the british government. And who told he was a non violent person throughout his life? When he was young, he even ate beef in secret without letting his parents know about it as it was against the religious beliefs in order to gain enough physical strength to fight and oust the british from india. He has supported war and violent moves at times. And he has admitted to it. But whenever he had to support a violent action, it was not happily, instead it was because there was no better decision before him.

    About point-2 what I have to say is that most of the allegations against gandhi are taken from his own words. Which simply means that he himself has admitted to have committed those mistakes. In his autobiography, he has clearly mentioned that he would not be showing justice to his book if he states only good things about himself and conceal the bad things. He has tried to be most sincere in the narration of his autobiography and be utterly detached from himself and see himself as an outsider would do when preparing an unbiased biography. If he wanted he could have hidden all the mistakes and immoral activities of his life. He was always a man who tried to make a better person of himself. You can make all allegations about himself just because he has written everything about himself, whether good or bad, without hiding anything. he never believed he had attained the supreme position which he dreamt about in his continuous search for self realization. There were pitfalls. And he was never ashamed to admit his mistakes as a human being. And that is the greatness I see in him. In that way he is a great person. He had no shame in disclosing that he visited brothels with his friend in his youth or how sex-hungry he was with his wife and how he treated her as a sex-object instead of a human being, a woman. Later when in Indian politics, he realised how difficult it was to remain pure and without hypocrisy in politics, and as a politician, he had to apply political tactics to bring together the entire population of India, especially the hindus and muslims under a single umbrella.

    In the site, I didn’t see any quotes from his autobiography ‘the story of my experiments with truth’ wherein he describes his good as well as his bad sides as a human being. Divulging the cheap acts of his life was very important to him because he wanted to correct himself and get rid of the burden of the feeling of guilt in his heart. He was a person who allowed himself to undergo a process evolution throughout his life. And he never believed that he had reached his destination, not even anywhere near to it.

    If the world is erecting his statues and bestowing great titles and honours on him, the fault is the world’s, not his. The fault is of those people who hear something from somewhere and believe blindly and arrive at conclusions without looking any further, instead of subjecting the person in question to a serious study.

    Finally I would like to remind once again that most allegations you have against Gandhi are taken from his early life in south Africa when he was an immature young guy who was a bit arrogant and who felt a great deal of self importance. This is all mostly in great contrast with his later years in India.

    thanks.

  6. Mahatma Gandhi trained as a lawyer in London. Lived in South Africa. Known as an Apostle of Non-Violence. A messiah, a Hindu deity, a visionary. Hailed as a catalyst of the American Civil Rights Movement. Praised by black leaders from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Nelson Mandela. Admired by world leaders of every political persuasion.

    After taking their oath of office, Indian politicians then submit at Raj Ghat, Gandhi’s tomb. Dignitaries and heads of state throw roses upon Raj Ghat when visiting India. Statues of him, most funded by the Indian government, dot the world. A Gandhi statue stands at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

    What did he REALLY believe?

    http://gandhism.net

    Gandhi was hired to serve as legal adviser to wealthy Indian traders in Colonial South Africa in 1893. He arrived there prior to Apartheid, but during a time when the nation still suffered severe political unrest and racial segregation. Gandhi soon initiated a movement for the creation of a third entrance to the Durban, South Africa post office entrance. The Durban post office had two doors – one for blacks and Indians and another for whites. Being Indian, Gandhi was of course required to share a door with black South Africans, which deeply offended him.

    In his Collected Works (CWMG), Vol. I, pp. 367-368, Gandhi wrote: “In the Durban Post and telegraph offices there were separate entrances for natives and Asiatics and Europeans. We felt the indignity too much and many respectable Indians were insulted and called all sorts of names by the clerks at the counter. We petitioned the authorities to do away with the invidious distinction and they have now provided three separate entrances for natives, Asiatics, and Europeans.”

    Note: All quotes are from the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG).

    “When one reflects that the conception of Brahmanism, with its poetic and mysterious mythology, took its rise in the land of the ‘Coolie trader,’ that in that land 24 centuries ago, the almost divine Buddha taught and practised the glorious doctrine of self-sacrifice, and that it was from the plains and mountains of that weird old country that we have derived the fundamental truths of the very language we speak, one cannot but help regretting that the children of such a race should be treated as equals of the children of black heathendom and outer darkness.”
    >>Reference: Vol. I, p. 225

    “The Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.”
    >>Reference: Vol. I, p. 193

    “Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”
    >>Reference: Vol. I, pp. 409-410

    “The £3 tax is merely a penalty for wearing the brown skin and it would appear that, whereas Kaffirs are taxed because they do not work at all or sufficiently, we are to be taxed evidently because we work too much, the only thing in common between the two being the absence of the white skin.”
    >>Reference: Vol. III, p. 74

    “First, why should we bear such hardships, submit ourselves, for instance, to…live among the Kaffirs…? Better die than suffer this.”
    >>Reference: Vol. IX, p. 292

    “Of course, under my suggestion, the Town Council must withdraw the Kaffirs from the Location. About this mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly. I think it is very unfair to the Indian population and it is an undue tax on even the proverbial patience of my countrymen.”
    >>Reference: Vol. III, p. 429

    “We humbly submit that the decision to open the school for all Coloured children is unjust to the Indian community, and is a departure from the assurance given by the then Minister of Education, as also Sir Albert Hime and Mr. Robert Russell, that the school will be reserved for Indian children only.”
    >>Reference: Vol. IV, p. 402

    “Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilised – the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live almost like animals.”
    >>Reference: Vol. VIII, p. 199

    “Are we supposed to be thieves or free-booters that even a Kaffir policeman can accost and detain us wherever we happen to be going?”
    >>Reference: Vol. VI, p. 363

    “The British rulers take us to be so lowly and ignorant that they assume that, like the Kaffirs who can be pleased with toys and pins, we can also be fobbed off with trinkets.”
    >>Reference: Vol. VIII, p. 167

  7. Dunbar says:

    One of the very few movies at the end of which I was completely speechless coming out of the hall.
    I am not a big fan (actually not even a small fan) of “serious” cinema (I’m could run for President of “Movies are for entertainment” club) and was dragged into this movie. And am glad for it!!

    All matter supposedly has anti-matter. For me, this movie is the anti-movie of “Guru”. Both had sons rebelling against their principled fathers. In both, the sons themselves were willing to cut corners and not be worried about morals in their zeal to succeed. But one was the story of a winner and the other that of a loser.
    Please note that by comparing this movie to Guru, I am no way implying that guru was as well made or had performances as strong as those here.

    Dunbar.

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