Massively moving, Gandhi, My Father is a Hindi masterpiece. Its laying bare the self-absorbed, insensitive and, frankly, brutal father that Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi was to his son, Harilal, sparked controversy in India, where Gandhi’s memory has been sanctified; but some viewers have failed to consider what the film is ultimately about. One misguided soul has criticized the film’s shift from Harilal’s woes to Mahatma Gandhi’s historic rendezvous with destiny as a cop-out, a failure on Khan’s part to stand his ground against Mahatma Gandhi. But the film at no point means to bash the father.
Rather, it demonstrates Gandhi’s unyielding principles, which shut out his son while embracing the right to freedom and justice for all children. In Mahatma Gandhi we see virtue carried to a fault; his failures as father are consistent with the fanaticism of his joy at the Holocaust since by their terrible fates the Six Million impressed themselves on the world’s conscience. Khan’s beautiful film reveals Gandhi’s path, including his mistreatment of Harilal, as necessary to achieve his political aims. Gandhi had to be the person that he was, one whose “family” was humanity and whose cause of India’s independence meant denying Harilal preferential treatment. Throughout the color film (which is hauntingly underlit by cinematographer David McDonald), documentary footage of Gandhi is inserted; interspersed with such footage of the assassinated Gandhi’s funeral procession in Delhi on January 31, 1948, are black-and-white crowd shots including the movie’s Harilal, still shut out from his father—now for all time. Five months later, Harilal himself died.
National Film Award winner Darshan Jariwala is astounding as the elder Gandhi; his is not the cardboard performance Ben Kingsley gave in Richard Attenborough’s dull Gandhi (1982). Khan’s script also won the National Film Award.
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