The Making of the Mahatma

If a man is lucky, he evolves through his life. Wide eyed wonder and youthful vigour give way to steady commitment. Inherited attitudes give way to self-discovered ideals. An aimless agitation gives way to a passionate vocation. The journey isn’t smooth, and the path isn’t straight. Through varied experiments, detours, losses and wounds on the way, he comes to be who he was meant to be.

Shyam Benegal’s The Making of the Mahatma (1996) is a studied narrative of this journey in the life of one of the most significant men of our time, Mohandas Gandhi. The film begins with Gandhi leaving for South Africa as an idealistic, ambitious family man looking for challenging work. It ends with Gandhi, now in white clothes, his head shaved like that of an ascetic, staff in hand, walking on the sea shore and contemplating his final return to India after 25 years in South Africa. The aggressive youth is now ascetic with tranquility in his eyes. These years have shaped him into the full embrace of his destiny. He will now go and live a much larger calling – the freedom struggle of India.

It’s a journey that we are all asked to embark upon. Happiness and sadness are both long standing companions on it. Convention is perhaps the first casualty of it. At the end of it, however, is a gentle joy that is perhaps the very essence of being alive, a joy that we may know when we aren’t busy running away from who we are.

The film nowhere aspires to the sweeping, emotionally overwhelming and inspirational effect of Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. Instead, it chooses to be an intimate and quiet portrait of the man in all his virtues and flaws, never melodramatic but breathing with a gentle and uplifting spirit. It knows that its strength is not that it is the epic story of a great man, but that it is a most unassuming and humane story that could be one of every man and woman. Another gem from Shyam Benegal.

~ by tdcatss on September 4, 2014.

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