Friday Review

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Mahatma: The Great Soul” was screened last week at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA).   | Photo Credit: 31dfrGandhiji2

To make a film of under an hour on Mahatma Gandhi within five months, to be screened at the United Nations on October 2, declared as International Day of Non-Violence by the world body, is a tall order. That is what Gaurishankar Raina was tasked to do in May 2007 by the Government of India through Doordarshan (DD). He achieved success in the form of the documentary “Mahatma: The Great Soul”. The film was screened last week at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA). Raina the producer The Hindu who was present at the screening, seems as enthusiastic today when talking about the film, the challenges he faced and those who helped in accomplishing this uphill task, as he must have been seven years ago.

He may have been on a tight deadline but shortcuts were not the way out. “I was firm about using original footage and soundtrack of Bapu for the film,” he reminisces. “As the screening date was dedicated to non-violence, I decided to highlight Gandhi’s contribution in forging this age-old concept into a weapon to fight injustice, oppression and subjugation of masses perpetrated by the British and also by Indians against their own countrymen.”

The research and script were assigned to Dr. Pushpesh Pant, expert on international studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. The two also decided on how to sequence Gandhiji’s life keeping in mind his experimenting and perfecting the non-violent method of protest in South Africa and later applying it successfully in India. Comments Raina, “South Africa was the birthplace and the laboratory where Bapu tried, test and perfected the tool to fight injustice.”

Footage of Gandhi was obtained from the Gandhi Film Foundation and the soundtrack from All India Radio Archives. “This was done simultaneously while working on the script –– finalised after five drafts and several rounds of discussion with Pant. Besides, the research team was assigned the task of acquiring original photographs of events and personalities. I was keen to imbibe an authentic attribute to the film,” remarks Raina.

Thus, one gets to see Gandhiji holding a baby, spinning the charkha, learning about a navigational instrument and life jacket, all during his ship journey to London for a conference and also his visit to France, Italy, Vatican City during his return –– all of which have not been used elsewhere, according to the producer. Graphics identify the time and place of the footage and also highlight quotations of Gandhiji on varying subjects including war, non-cooperation and non-violence –– all relevant in today’s world torn apart by hatred, violence and war. The device of using the Mahatma’s original soundtrack along with visuals of sky, flowing water or the gramophone playing a record was indeed inventive.

Raina identified music to play a prominent role in the film and decided on Pandit Bhajan Sopori and Abhay Sopori to compose the music track. He explains, “I wanted the music to lift the old footage to make it attractive and create the mood pertaining to the sequence.” “Further, I wanted the poignancy of events like World War I and II, the Boer War, Partition, Zulu Rebellion to be highlighted besides showcasing Indian classical music to an international audience.”

The film features Bapu’s favourite bhajans “Vaishnov jan to taynay kahyeeye” and “Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram” played on the santoor, apart from modern and Western instruments as background music. “The music enhanced the aesthetics of the film,” he says.

The narration is by Rajiv Mehrotra. “Being a tried and tested voice of Doordarshan I chose him,” says Raina.

The screening at the UN elicited a standing ovation for Raina. Thanking his team, Pant, the Soporis and Mehrotra, the producer, says, “I was satisfied, jubilant and ecstatic, when a member of the audience remarked that though he had read a lot on Mahatma Gandhi, the film helped him to clearly understand the idea and experiments of non-violence.”


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Printable version | Dec 6, 2021 4:11:18 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/picture-this/article6548227.ece

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