Timeout - Family vs the Greater Good
by Life Positive
So, you expect barbs against the Father of the Nation for being an irresponsible father to his eldest son. In fact, the play, Mahatma vs Gandhi, also directed by Feroz Abbas Khan, was energized by that angle. The movie version, however, has managed to maintain a fine balance bet-ween the points of view of both Gandhi and Harilal.
You do see Gandhi's flaws as a fa-ther, but you also see that he sacrificed his family for the larger good of the nation. It was his squeaky clean personal life, and living the highest ideals set by himself, which won him the unstinted, reverential support of India's masses, making the country's freedom struggle unstoppable.
So, when Harilal is dying to be sent on a scholarship instituted by a Gandhi benefactor for Gandhi's family, Gandhi chooses a nephew instead. Later, when Harilal is involved in misappropriation of public money, Gandhi does not try to hush up the matter, but instigates court proceedings.
Gandhi also personifies the spirit of 'hate the sin, not the sinner'. At every step, he keeps asking Harilal to join him in his ashram, and help him in his work. Even after he publicly disowns Harilal for continuing to try to encash on the Gandhi name, he is welcome in the Gandhi household. But towards the end of his life, Gandhi says regretfully that he could not get along with two people: Jinnah and Harilal.
Harilal, of course, grows more and more rebellious. For him, his father is the villain in his story. The film's viewer, however, sees his circumstances in that role. Initially, Harilal tries to make an honest life on his own, but everything he touches turns to ashes. His wife also dies. Desperate to eke out a living, he turns to less honest means. He fails again, takes refuge in alcohol, takes refuge in Islam, and is converted back to Hinduism. He dies a derelict on the streets of Bombay a few months after the Mahatma was assassinated.
Based on Harilal Gandhi: A Life by Gandhian scholar, Chandulal Dalal, the two-hour film is made with an eye on the international audience. Despite Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor's name as producer, and the presence of Akshaye Khanna and Bhoomika Chawla in the cast, Gandhi My Father is far from being a typical Bollywood masala film.
It may not become a global blockbuster like Richard Attenborough's Gandhi (1982), but it is likely to win awards on the international film circuit. The difference is that Attenborough portrayed Mahatma the icon, while this movie brings out the human side of the best-known Indian in the world.
Akshaye Khanna, Bhoomika Chawla, Darshan Jariwala, Shefali Shah, all play their respective characters well. But the film belongs to Feroz Abbas Khan, who has made his debut as a sensitive director.
Gandhi My Father is an emotionally engaging film,almost relentlessly so. Much after you leave the theatre – in my case in New York – you keep mulling over its theme: Family vs social responsibility.
- Parveen Chopra
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