Tragedy of an Indian family

I got into the presidential gala of Feroz Abbas Khan’s movie Gandhi My Father by default. I was offered some free tickets so I had no idea of what to expect and I was hoping it was not in vain. I was not to be disappointed.

Gandhi My Father is based on the private and troubled relationship between the public figure of the Mahatma, superbly played by Darshan Jariwala, and his anonymous son Harilal, played by Akshaye Khanna. The film is based on true events and is a refreshing take on Gandhi in that it focuses on Harilal’s life rather than his more famous father’s.

The film is historically set, and shot, in South Africa and India where a youthful Harilal looks up to his father as a hero. While Gandhi is busy being father to the nation, he neglects being a father to his son and the violence is committed when the Mahatma makes a political statement by overlooking Harilal for a scholarship meant for any one of his children to study in England and instead gives it to someone else in the commune he thinks is more deserving.

Gandhi’s ideological and principled beliefs come across as paramount for him in setting an example in his family for all of India to follow. For example there is a scene where he refuses to accept a free ticket offered to him by a train conductor. Unfortunately these principles and his emotional detachment are at great cost to his family. Harilal, then takes a downward spiral into a world of brothels, alcoholism, fraud and theft. To defy his father further he converts to Islam for a short period.

The son’s unrequited love eventually turns to hate when he blames his father for all his misfortunes. And the lid on this frustration eventually blows for Harilal one evening when he runs out on to the streets of India to publicly declare the burden of having Gandhiji as a father, “He is the greatest father you can have … but he is the one father I wish I did not have!”


The film must be commended for its superb photography, which exploits the richness and colours of India — textured with references to its many religious festivals and epics using its most ancient temples and mosques as backdrops. The editing is somewhat fragmented and transitional shots of sea voyages between India and South Africa would have been better left out.

For those not used to Indian-length movies it may be a little long. But this is not a Bollywood genre movie. It has a strong and original storyline and is a refreshing take on the role that women play in Indian society. Both Kasturba, Gandhi’s wife (Shefali Shah) and Harilal’s wife Gulab (Bhumika Chawla), play very strong roles that challenge the clichéd representation of the submissive Indian woman.

Gandhi My Father uses Indian news footage to reveal the tragedy of the partition of 1948, the source of much conflict between Hindus and Muslims.

Through this unconventional portrayal of Gandhi as a lead, director Khan has done a fine job of delving into tabooed areas of Indian life with his team of superb actors. It remains one of the most amazing historical connections that India’s icon of freedom was politically schooled in South Africa. To quote Essop Pahad, (who quoted Nelson Mandela) at the banquet following the event, “India gave us a barrister, and we [South Africa] gave India a Mahatma.”

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

JP Mika is a Congolese artist in full bloom

The painter, who hails from the DRC, is currently presenting his first solo exhibition outside his home country in Paris

Mancoba’s genius is at long last acknowledged

In Europe, where he lived most of his life, he was either ‘too African’ or ‘not African enough’

‘I’m finally getting recognition’

Celebrated Ghanaian photographer James Barnor continues his interview with Riason Naidoo, focusing on the later years of his career

Photographer James Barnor – Ever Young at 90

He tells the story of his becoming a photographer and photojournalist in Ghana and in London

Basquiat retrospective boasts central masterpieces and never-before-exhibited works

A retrospective on Jean-Michel Basquiat is showing at Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. Its curator has dubbed it the most comprehensive Basquiat show

​Katz makes a jump from her mattress

The artist, in her first international show, also uses the ground to map out the directions people take
Advertising

Subscribers only

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

More top stories

Hawks swoop down with more arrests in R1.4-billion corruption blitz

The spate of arrests for corruption continues apace in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.

Catholic NGO boss accused of racism and abuse in Sudan

The aid worker allegedly called his security guard a ‘slave’

Agrizzi too ill to be treated at Bara?

The alleged crook’s “health emergency” — if that is what it is — shows up the flaws, either in our health system or in our leadership as a whole

SANDF hid R200m expenditure on ‘Covid’ drug it can’t use

Military health officials are puzzled by the defence department importing a drug that has not been approved for treating coronavirus symptoms from Cuba
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday