Thursday, March 13, 2014

Reeling History - from Time-Out-Mumbai

HomeFriends I am happy to share report from Magazine Time-Out-Mumbai issue dated March 13, 2014 titled "Reeling History" by Huzan Tata.

Mani Bhavan’s Gandhi Films Exhibition Centre is intent at preserving Mahatma Gandhi on celluloid...

When you think of Mahatma Gandhi, the first image that usually comes to mind is that of Ben Kingsley from Richard Attenborough’s Oscar winning movie. This is soon to change. Now, films featuring clippings, visuals and speeches of Gandhi can be viewed by audiences from the world over. The Gandhi Films Exhibition Centre, launched at Mani Bhavan on his 66th death anniversary this year, will preserve his life as documented by various mediums. Mani Bhavan was Gandhi’s residence in Mumbai from 1917-34, and is one of the city’s loveliest small museums. “Gandhiji’s teachings of ahimsa, simplicity and honesty are more relevant today than ever before and need to be re-emphasised in whatever format [possible],” said Nitin Potdar, chairman of the Gandhi Films Foundation, in an interview with Time Out

The first photo you see at the entrance to the film centre, is an old Gandhi, with his trademark round spectacles, smiling as though inviting you inside. The walls of the staircase leading to the screening room on the firstfloor are lined with more photos of Gandhi with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru, other leaders and commoners. Walking up this wooden staircase in the company of history adds to the impact that this two-storey heritage building has on you.
A large photo of Gandhi addressing a crowd greets you as you enter the air-conditioned screening room – a mini theatre is separated from the room that contains the film reels by a glass door. These reels are stored in blue, yellow, green and grey cans lined on ceiling-high shelves, and make for an interesting sight. If you get lucky and spot the caretaker, he’ll even oblige you with a visit to the tiny room and show you around. The theatre, with metal chairs, seats 15 people and will play movies with English and Hindi commentary. Again, photos of Gandhi with personalities like Rabindranath Tagore, Subhash Chandra Bose and Nehru dominate the walls. The film currently shown at the centre is a 15-minute documentary, 30th January 1948, about Gandhi’s death. “Very shortly, you will [be able to] see various clippings of Gandhiji from the Salt Satyagraha, Non Co-operation Movement, Quit India Movement and more. You can select what you want to watch, and the clip will play. Over a period of time, the [voiceovers] should be available in German and French. I’m also going to make an attempt to reach out to some [other historical] institutions,” Potdar explained.

The material that the foundation owns has been donated from 1948 onwards by various people and institutions to Gandhi’s youngest son Devdas, who was then the chairman of the Gandhi Films Committee. News agencies from France, Britain and South Africa, amateur photographers and even anonymous Gandhi followers have contributed to the foundation’s growing collection of films. All this was brought to Mumbai to be edited, digitised and processed in the 1950s. “One of the movies made from that material was a five-anda- half-hour film, Mahatma [that] has various events from his life. It was being given to people who wanted to make documentaries or news clippings. So there was very limited use of the films,” said Potdar. These movies, stored in 35mm reels are preserved in an air-conditioned room with controlled temperatures, and are regularly cleaned and checked. As audio and video used to be recorded separately during those times, many of these clips have missing audio or video links, but the foundation has tried its best to work with whatever material they possess. Other films produced by the foundation include Abhishap that addresses the issue of untouchability,Badsha Khan, a biopic on Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and Miracle of Non-violence about the surrender of dacoits in the Chambal Valley. 

A centre that screens documentaries only about one man’s life and ideals may not be frequented by many, but Potdar’s ambitious plans may soon bear fruit. “As [film director] Jabbar Patel advised me, we could hold a two-day film festival. If people have made movies on non-violence [or] honesty, they can be screened. We will approach schools and see how best we can communicate his thoughts through symposiums.” School and college students who need material on Gandhi will be given free access to all the films, said Potdar.
Whether the Gandhi Films Exhibition Centre works or not waits to be seen, but one cannot ignore the aura of the Father of the Nation in the house he once walked through. “How does one person suddenly come from Africa, give up all his [material] things, and bring his philosophy of non-violence to people? It really amazes me. It amazes millions,” exclaimed Potdar. This new initiative will now help these millions see and experience on screen not Kingsley, but the real Mahatma Gandhi. 

Gandhi Films Exhibition Centre, Mani Bhavan (backside), 19, Laburnum Road, Gamdevi (2380-4681). Daily 10 am-6 pm.
Visit or email for more information.

By Huzan Tata on February 28 2014 8.07am
Photos by Stashia D'souza

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