At a time when violence and intolerance are becoming a major threat to India's syncretism and diversity we really need to once again embrace the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and help reinforce the idea of India he had devoted himself to--an India that has the magnanimity to rise above caste, color, creed, religion, and gender. In a sincere attempt to remind us about the teachings of the Mahatma, Rajiv Gandhi Foundation recently organised a five day event titled Bapu Ki Virasat: Sadbhavna during which four films viz. Gandhi Se Mahatma Tak, Manjunath, Jung Aur Aman, and Sadho were screened that celebrated the life, teachings and ways of Mahatma Gandhi.
The opening film of the event was Shyam Benegal's riveting 1996 biopic on the life of Mahatma Gandhi titled Gandhi Se Mahatma Tak (the better known English version is titled The Making of the Mahatma). The film, starring Rajit Kapur in the role of Bapu, focuses upon the early life of Mahatma Gandhi during his early years in South Africa during which he successfully channelised a strong civil rights movement in the country. It was during the 21 years he spent in South Africa that he developed his humanistic views, ethics as well as political ideology. The film, based upon Fatima Meer’s book titled The Apprenticeship of a Mahatma, is a joint production of India and South Africa that also went on to bag a couple of National Awards, including one for Rajit Kapur.
The second film to be screened was Sandeep Varma’s 2014 film Manjunath based on the true story of 27-year-old man named Manjunath Shanmugam, a graduate from Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow, who was killed in Lakhimpur, a remote district in rural Uttar Pradesh, back in the year 2005, for his stand against corruption and fuel adulteration. Manjunath had famously ordered the sealing of two petrol pumps at Lakhimpur Kheri for selling adulterated fuel for three months. The manner in which he sacrificed himself while fighting against corruption has made him a role model for millions. It also led to an increase in awareness against corruption amongst citizens.
Varma’s critically acclaimed film not only does justice to Manjunath’s story of courage and determination but it also serves as a powerful reminder of how even one person is capable of making a huge difference, reaffirming Bapu’s golden words: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature so does the attitude of the world change towards him… We need not wait to see what others do.”
Anand Patwardhan’s 2002 documentary film Jung Aur Aman (the English version is titled War and Peace) was the third film to be screened. The film that begins with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi at the hands of the religious extremist Nathuram Godse covers the Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons tests in 1998, highlighting the nationalist rhetoric that accompanied these tests and exploring the ill-effects of the India’s test on the surrounding population. The film also covers the rise of religious extremism in both India and Pakistan. The latter part of the film focuses on the perception of nuclear weapons in Japan and the United States as Patwardhan travels to Japan to interview the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He also interviews curators of the Smithsonian Institution who reveal the dangerous effects of nuclear weapons. The film ends with the 9/11 attacks and also shows how the US retaliated. By showing us the dark side of war and aggression, Patwardhan succeeds in making a strong case for embracing Bapu’s principles of nonviolence as a way of life.
The fourth and final film to be screened was Danish Iqbal’s 2017 film Sadho that’s based on true events highlighting the menace of child trafficking. The movie is set in Chattisgarh and tells the story of a lower-caste grave digger who discovers a new-born child who miraculously escapes death during a car accident. Sadho must make a choice whether to return the child to its parents or to sell it off to child traffickers. Sadho essentially is an exploration of what it really means to be human—a question that’s central to Bapu’s lifelong teachings.
Bapu Ki Virasat: Sadbhavna also featured a session on performative readings based on the works of noted female writers such as Mahadevi Varma, Ismat Chughtai, Sarojini Naidu, Anne Marie Petersen, etc. compiled by Rasachakra titled Har Katra Toofan. The readings were performed by the likes of Rashmi Sinha, Poorva Bhardwaj, Shweta Tripathi, and Rizwana Fatima, among others. The five-day-long event witnessed enthusiastic participation from people belonging to all age groups, thereby serving as a powerful reminder of the importance of Bapu’s teachings of love, nonviolence and universal brotherhood in today’s tumultuous and testing times when discontent, anger and hatred is fast spreading all around.