Mahatma Gandhi and Indian Cinema
Essay Preview: Mahatma Gandhi and Indian Cinema
Report this essay
Mahatma Gandhi was a multi-faceted man, one whose writings spanned every subject under the sun, including: agriculture, education, science, sanitation, economics, literature, industry, women, children, health, family planning, religion, and, of course, politics. Many were surprised to learn of his prolific writing, and were astounded to hear that he had probably written more than anyone else in history (his collected works run to over 100 volumes, several hundred pages each).
Mahatma Gandhi was born during an era of progressive evolution of communication technology. Unfortunately, he was born in a country, which was under the clutches of foreign rule. Mahatma Gandhi, was a passionate opponent of modernity and technology, preferring the pencil to the typewriter, the loincloth to the business suit, the plowed field to the belching manufactory, printed words to moving pictures.
Moving pictures made its appearance in India at the beginning of the twentieth century, when the country was poised for major social and political changes. A society that had remained unchanged for centuries was being transformed in the face of technological innovations. Cars, airplanes, radio broadcasts and photograph records had recently been introduced, bringing with them new status symbols as well as access to foreign ideas. At the same time, the press had become a new force in the formation of public opinion as regional language newspapers, including those in Hindi, were being published around the country. It was against this background that cinema arrived. In the decades that followed it was to assume the dimensions of a major socio-cultural force.
Mahatma Gandhi expressed his disapproving ideas on cinema in 1927 when the Indian Cinematograph Committee sent him to him a request accompanied with a questionnaire, on what were his views on cinema. Gandhiji returned the questionnaire with an unfavourable comment in a letter address to T. Rangachriar, Chairman of the Committee, stating he had views to offer as he negated cinema as sinful technology. The letter dated November 12,1927 said:”Even if was so minded, I should be unfit t o answer your questionnaire as I have never been a cinema. But even to outsiders that it has done and is doing is patent. The good if it has done at all, remains to be proved.”
He even refused to send a message to a souvenir, which was to be published on the occasion of silver jubilee celebration of Indian cinema in1938. Mahatma s secretary curtly replied “As a rule Gandhi gives messages only on rare occasions and this is only for a cause whose virtue is ever undoubtful. As for cinema industry, he has the least interest in it and one may not expect a word of appreciation from him.”
Gandhis dislike for cinema appeared a few times in Harijan, a paper edited by him. Gandhi said in an interview published in May 3,1942 issue of the paper. “If I began to organise picketing in respect of them (the evil of cinema), I should lose my caste, my mahatmashipI may say that cinema films are often bad. About the radio I do not know.”
Mahatma Gandhis persistent aversion to this innovative tool of western technology created a virtual disappointment in the film circle in India. Even Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, the noted film personality wrote a long letter to Gandhi pleading him to reconsider his views on cinema. One interesting portion of his letter is, I think, worth mentioning here: ” Today I bring for your scrutiny – and approval – a new toy my generation has learned to play with, the CINEMA! – You include cinema among evils like gambling, satta, horseracing etc….. Now if these statements had come from any other person, it was not necessary to be worried about them … But your case is different. In view of the great position you hold in this country, and I may say in the world, even the slightest expression of your opinion carries much weight with millions of people. And one of the worlds most useful inventions would be allowed to be discarded or what is worse left alone to be abused by unscrupulous people. You are a great soul, Bapu. In your heart there is no room for prejudice. Give this little toy of ours, the cinema, which is not so useless as it looks, a little of your attention and bless it with a smile of toleration.
Baburao Patel, editor of Filmindia (one of the early film journals in India) mounted a more direct attack on Gandhi in 1940. I quote:”Let this Champion of the Daridra Narayan (poor men) come down and meet and we shall try to convince him, or to be convinced (by him). Surely as workers in the film field, we are not worse than the poor untouchables for whom the old Mahatmas heart bleeds so often. And if he thinks we are, the more reason why he should come to our rescue.
Even all of his junior colleagues in the Indian National Congress were not so volatile critics of cinema. It is interesting to note that no congress leader, except Rajaji (Chakrapani.Rajagopalacharia) had rigid and hostile attitude towards the cinematic arts or any other performing arts. Therefore it was obvious Indian National Congress did not have consistent and constructive policies towards the development of cinematic and performing arts, which could be used effectively during the Indias struggle for freedom. Instead of doing that the leadership in Indian National Congress allowed this potent medium of mass awareness to refuge it into hands of private producers whose sole aim was to make money.
It is worth noting here that the first Indian statesman to have the flicker of the projector catch his eye was none other than Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore also tried writing the scenario of his own play, Tapati, to be directed by Dhiren Ganguly, but that project was stillborn. Rabindra Nath understood the magic power of cinema. He was first Indian statesman who was invited by UFA (a primer German Film Company) in 1933 to direct an English film with all European casts and crew on his own original screenplay entitled The Child. The film could not see the light of the day, because Tagore did not support the rise of Nazism in Germany .
Though the national leadership of Congress did not hold much briefing for using power of cinematic art in their struggle against the foreign rule. Yet the British India administration established Censor Broad as early as in 1920. The Broad was primarily established to keep a check on anti -British sentiment in the films produced in the country. Even as some Indian filmmakers touched upon Gandhian ideas in their films, the British government realized the force of cinema and how it was being used for political propaganda. The British government, in an attempt to prevent the depiction of these ideas in films, tightened