Deifying Gandhi makes him irrelevant: Feroze Khan

By Ashok Easwaran, IANS

Chicago : By humanising Mahatma Gandhi, you make him relevant. By deifying him, as politicians in India do, you make him irrelevant, says filmmaker Feroze Abbas Khan.

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Khan said Gandhi saw his obligation as going beyond his immediate family, in stark contrast to the attitude of Indian politicians today.

“The power structure in today’s India is ‘me and my family’. But if all of us function as individuals, society cannot function. You have to understand the collective good,” Khan told IANS in an interview after the screening of his film “Gandhi My Father”.

After the screening of the film, an incensed second generation Indian American asked Khan, “How could the India Development Service (a not for profit organisation which helps the disadvantaged in India and which organised the screening) be linked with a film which shows a tyrannical father, so totally oblivious to the needs of his own son?”

The question, Khan said, betrayed the individualistic attitude of those raised in Western societies. “In India, the head of an extended family will strive to look after his nephews and nieces first.

“It is a very simplistic view to look at parents who stand up for their principles as being tyrannical,” Khan said, “throughout the film, Gandhi tells his son, Harilal, ‘come back beta.’ He wanted his son back with him.”

Khan conceded that Gandhi’s preoccupation with the freedom movement led to his giving inadequate attention to his family. But this, he said, was the price most leaders had to pay.

“He wanted a new political structure. He asked people to give up everything, including their degrees. This was a man, who when he died did not even have a bank account.

“When we look at any great leader, we must ask ourselves, ‘what are the sacrifices that were made (by the family)? Many of the families have had to live with unhealed wounds,” Khan said.

Apart from the lone questioner, other members of the audience were fulsome in their praise of the film. Many said they had come to see the film after being told by friends that it denigrated Mahatma Gandhi, but found that the film, in fact, made Gandhi more human.

“To be a Gandhi is a very tough thing,” said Khan. “We understand the pain of the son, but we have to understand the pain of the parents too.”

Khan said Gandhi’s entire surviving family had seen and praised the film, as had Harilal’s granddaughter. He added that while making the film, he had walked a fine line.

“The same film could easily have been made into a sensationalist one. But I felt that you cannot use Harilal to denigrate Gandhi. Gandhi is a leader of men and you cannot define him through the perspective of his failed relationship with his son.”

Although the film is based on the book, “Harilal Gandhi: A Life” by Chandulal Bhagubhai Dalal, Khan said he also had inputs from several surviving members of Gandhi’s family who offered him access to hitherto unpublished letters which gave him a greater insight into Harilal’s relationship with his father.

“Historically, the film is accurate. I should be blamed for suppression rather than exaggeration (of incidents in Gandhi’s life)” he said.

(Ashok Easwaran can be contacted at [email protected])