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Hey Ram! So many films on Gandhi!

Guess who’s the flavour of the season in Bollywood right now' No, it’s not the scrumptious King Khan, nor is it AB’s beautiful Baby. The man who’s got several film makers firmly in his thrall is none other than a thin, dhoti-clad, freedom fighter who was shot dead more than 50 years ago. Yes, it’s Mahatma Gandhi we’re talking about ' a national icon who is often regarded as someone who’s been largely forgotten by the young today.

That does not quite seem to be the case, however. Suddenly, a clutch of films is being made on Gandhi ' films that look at the man and his ideals from different standpoints. One was released last year and at least four more are in the works. These, of course, top two earlier films ' Richard Attenborough’s film and Shyam Benegal’s The Making of the Mahatma. That makes for a veritable outpouring of films on the father of the nation.

Take Jahnu Barua’s Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara, which was released last year. Starring Anupam Kher and Urmila Matondkar, the film dwells on the values of Mahatma Gandhi that are sorely missing in today’s society. Vinay Mudgal’s Aakhri Gandhi, to hit the theatres at the end of this year, echoes similar sentiments. Then Anil Kapoor’s Gandhi ' My Father deals with the friction between the Mahatma and his son Harilal. Other Gandhi films in the Bollywood pipeline include Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Munnabhai Meets Mahatma, which is about a don who meets Gandhi, and debutant director Abhik Bhanu’s Sab Kuch Hai Kuch Bhi Nahin, where a writer wants to make it big by penning a controversial book on Gandhi.

To be sure, films on Gandhi have been made before. After the stupendous success of Richard Attenborough’s film, where Ben Kingsley turned in an Oscar-winning performance as Gandhi, Shyam Benegal made The Making of the Mahatma with Rajit Kapur in the lead. Mahatma Gandhi made relatively fleeting appearances in films like Ketan Mehta’s Sardar (Annu Kapoor), Jabbar Patel’s Babasaheb Ambedkar (Mohan Gokhale), Veer Savarkar (Surendra Rajan) and Kamal Hasan’s Hey Ram (Naseeruddin Shah).

Many of the new films do not deal with Gandhi conventionally, though. Vijay Ghatge’s film Shobhayatra, released last year to lukewarm commercial response, is a good example of this new trend. Shobhayatra took a dig at the system by showing a local don organising a procession of national figures to further his own interests. Assorted lowlifes dress up as Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lokamanya Tilak, Subash Chandra Bose and so on. The man who plays Gandhi (Prithvi Sankhla) is a goon with underworld contacts. Sacrilege' Not quite, feels Ghatge. “The original play had a strong social message which I felt translated well on the screen,” says Ghatge.

Again, take Jayant Gilatar’s film White Land. Rather than deal with the Mahatma directly, it focuses on the problems of workers in the salt pans of Gujarat after Gandhi flouted the Salt Act in 1930.

So are these film makers just riding on the Gandhi name, trying to garner pelf and publicity for themselves by exploiting the star value of a man who, willy-nilly, remains our biggest national icon'

“Not at all,” says Gilatar. “I don’t want to piggyback on Gandhi. My film is about those salt pan workers. It talks about their life and goes into the details of what their problems are today. Agreed, the Mahatma violated the Salt Act. But what has the country done for those salt workers' Their problems and predicament remain the same even today,” he says.

Bhanu too trashes the idea of exploiting Gandhi, adding that his film was not so much about Gandhi as about his values and principles and how they are relevant in the present context.

Indeed, nearly all these film makers agree that Gandhi and his ideals have a role to play in society even today. “There is such an erosion of values in society. We need a man to make peace, a man to look up to,” exclaims Vinay Mudgal.

Jahnu Barua too shares similar sentiments. “My film talks about the things I feel. Who has destroyed these values' Who has destroyed Gandhi’s principles in society today'” asks the 10-time national award winner.

But will making films on Gandhi help to reinstil his values in today’s society' “Why not'” retorts Anupam Kher who plays the lead role in Aakhri Gandhi. “He is a symbol of peace. He is needed today. Everyone wants some kind of a role model. Who better than Mahatma Gandhi to look up to,” he argues.

Kher feels passionately about the subject. For he knows all about the power and the glory of portraying a man like Gandhi. The Mahatma’s great grandson Tushar Gandhi sent Kher an SMS after watching Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara, telling him: “I was touched by the film. Brilliant performances. At the end, I felt guilty!”

Evidently, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is alive and well in Bollywood. What remains to be seen, though, is whether or not he will set the box office ringing.

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