Posted on: 2 October 2013

The Making of the Mahatma
Directed by Shyam Benegal
Written by Fatima Meer
Released in 1996

The Making of the Mahatma (1996) is joint Indian - South African produced film, directed by Shyam Benegal, about the early life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi during his 21 years in South Africa. The film is based upon the book, The Apprenticeship of a Mahatma, by Fatima Meer, who also wrote the screenplay to this movie.

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Making of the Mahatma
By Lavina Melwani, New York

While the world thinks of Gandhi as the sainted man in khadi loincloth leaning on a cane, there is another Gandhi--a painfully shy young man struggling to formulate his ideas, the man before he became the Mahatma. This is the Mohandas K. Gandhi documented in "The Making of the Mahatma," a collaboration of National Film Development Corporation of India and the SABC of South Africa. This film about Gandhi's experiments with truth and nonviolence in colonial South Africa was produced in India and South Africa. It is based on the book Apprenticeship of a Mahatma by Fatima Meer and directed by one of India's most respected directors, Shyam Benegal.

"The Making of the Mahatma" premiered in November, 1996 at New York's Guild Theater. The film intentionally lacks the panoramic proportions and epic scale of Attenborough's "Gandhi." Benegal says, "This is a more intimate story. It is concerned with so much that had to change in Gandhi before he became the Mahatma." The film documents Gandhi's 21 years in South Africa, from age 19, and the changes which came over this anglicized, London-trained barrister as he encountered the racial discrimination and bias of the colonials first hand. There are stirring scenes where Gandhi stands up for exploited indentured laborers and builds up their awareness of their rights.

Rajit Kapur, a film and theater actor from Mumbai, gives a strong performance as Gandhi, and Pallavi Joshi, who has 42 teleserials to her credit, wonderfully portrays his wife Kasturba. Viewers may be surprised to see Gandhi's quiet, subdued spouse played as a strong and vocal woman. Benegal explains, "People get the impression that she was a doormat, but she was very much her own person, and a strong-willed woman. She got him to change his views, and he became a strong supporter of independent women." The film is shot in the area where Gandhi actually lived one hundred years ago, including his old house on Loop Street.

South Africa's president, His Excellency Nelson Mandela, a follower of Gandhian philosophy, was deeply moved by the production: "I am glad that our youth will see this film. It will show them the depth from which our struggle grew and the sacrifices that were made by people protesting against what was done to us in the past."

Etching Gandhi with all his faults and foibles makes him more accessible as a role model than the haloed, saintly father of the nation who could do no wrong. This young Gandhi, who had failed many, many times before, struggles with his very human temptations and fears. It shows how an ordinary man rose to extraordinary heights, becoming the leader of 100,000 people in a South African satyagraha, a war without violence, the prelude to his emancipation of the subcontinent's 350 million Indians.

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Great work .

Yesterday, I attended the release of 'Gandhi before India' by Ramachandra Guha. According to him "It was during his years in England and South Africa that he came to understand the nature of imperialism and racism; and it was in South Africa that he forged the philosophy and techniques that would undermine and ultimately destroy the British Empire.'" From a briefless lawyer in the 1890s to a 'Mahatma' in the 20s, a path well tread (questionable at times, though)...