Published: 01st October 2020
Mahatma Gandhi is a timeless asset for India, relevant at all times: Bharatbala
In a conversation at Azim Premji University's Gandhi150 event to mark the 151st birth anniversary of the Mahatma, Bharatbala discusses his films on Gandhi and how he's relevant to us today
People have a herd mentality and keep looking for a leader to guide them, but that isn't required, says filmmaker Bharatbala. People are their own leaders and if a person takes responsibility and engages with society then values will exist and societies will change, he adds. He spoke at the Azim Premji Foundation's Gandhi150 virtual event, organised by Azim Premji University, to mark the 151st birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
During the discussion, Bala showed the audience trailers of three short films that are now streaming on YouTube as part of the Virtual Bharat Project - Chasing Gandhi, The Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and Haldhar Nag. Speaking about the need for such films in today's times, with specific reference to Chasing Gandhi, a film about senior Indian Railways officer Vishwanathan Jayaraman, Bala says, "In a day and age when there are so much information and content pollution, this person who follows the Gandhian principles is not in isolation. He engages in the same system where everyone else is. But he leads a life of simplicity and still thrives. The fact that he can coexist with everyone is a story worth telling," says Bala. Vishwanathan runs 32 kilometres a day and has been doing so for 15 years, says Bala. "He runs barefoot and bare-bodied," he adds.
To a question about the importance of establishing Gandhian schools, Bala answers, "I shouldn't think that there should be separate Gandhian studies. We just have to take the values. When people start taking those values and there's an impact, a betterment of the society then Gandhi will be remembered. No one will be bothered about a separate Gandhian school of studies. The core values of Mahatma Gandhi should be permeated across every aspect of education. When these show results, people will accept Gandhi in a more organic way."
Speaking about the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi in the present times, Bala explains, "Mahatma Gandhi is a timeless asset for us. He is relevant at all times. When I was filming with former Israeli President Shimon Peres, he had said that Gandhi doesn't belong to the past but to the future. As long as there is injustice, oppression and violence, Gandhi's ideologies will remain relevant. We live in a society filled with greed and such violence and oppression will always be present, making Gandhi relevant."
Shifting the discussion to The Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, a film featuring interviews with Gopal Godse - Nathuram Godse's brother, V Kalyanam - Gandhi's personal secretary and Sarla Mehta - close aide and follower, Bala says, "We decided to meet people who were closest to Gandhi and were alive. That's how I could meet V Kalyanam in Chennai, who lives less than 3 kilometres away from my residence and had been six inches away from the bullet when Gandhi was shot. He was the last serving personal secretary. We met Sarla Mehta in Mumbai and took her back to Sabarmati after 72 years and took a walk in the ashram. We didn't set out to make a film about Gandhi's assassination. But we found all these people and had to do it." Expressing gratitude about how he was able to find these stories and anecdotes about Gandhi, Bala continues, "I'm so glad to have been able to discover these stories, preserve them and keep telling them to the entire world. Gandhi belongs to humanity and should be given to them."
Answering a question about how to keep Gandhi alive even as the world grows younger and a chance of Gandhi disappearing looms, Bala says, "It has to happen organically. It cannot be thrust. We have kept Gandhi boxed, but he needs to engage with new ideas and adapt to the changing times. If someone wishes to write a beautiful song on Ahimsa and then if Coldplay can sing it and it all happens organically then that is a way to keep him alive. Everyone has their own rate of discovering their Gandhi and we should respect that. Engaging in discourse with just believers. Don't think that it's not happening due to polarisation. Just find another way."