Talking about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in relation to Tamil cinema, the first film that strikes our minds would undoubtedly be writer-director Kamal Haasan’s masterpiece, Hey Ram (2000).
The movie, set in a very unusual and Kamal’s flavoured controversy, is all about justifying the assassination of Gandhi. The screenplay traverses from the viewpoint of Saket Ram, who loses his wife to the Hindu-Muslim riots that happened during the Partition of West Bengal and East Pakistan – a similar story of Nathuram Godse whose sister was raped and killed in the commotion.
However, the last few minutes of Hey Ram undergo a transition and we find Saket emerging from the shadow of Godse, and starting to become compassionate towards Gandhi. That’s how Kamal Haasan unproved his own justification and glorified Gandhi towards the end of Hey Ram‘s narration.
Today being the 150 birth anniversary of Gandhi, let us have a look at how Tamil films have referred to Gandhi in various other ways apart from the serious Hey Ram. Gandhi, as himself, or through his ideologies, has been quite an inspiration for filmmakers and writers of the industry, that has always had an unconditional fascination for him.
To start with, we can, again, go back to Kamal Haasan, who is one of the pioneers in introducing Gandhi in a lateral view. In his 2009 thriller and the Bollywood blockbuster A Wednesday’s remake Unnaipol Oruvan, written by Kamal himself, there is a dialogue about Gandhi, when this unnamed lead of the movie says, ‘Gandhi was ambidextrous and I’m his fan too‘. The character can write using both hands like how Gandhi could. The dialogue follows with, ‘Enakkum idadhu valadhu bedham illai‘ (I am unbiased between right and left). Nine years after Unnaipol Oruvan, Kamal launched his political party, Makkal Needhi Maiam, saying it is neither left wing nor right wing but centre.
When movies were using the ideals of Gandhi, filmmaker Ravikumar’s Indru Netru Naalai (2015), starring Vishnu Vishal, had a funny reference. The lead actors of the movie, who are time-travellers, get to see an advertisement in a paper about a company ready to buy rare photos of Gandhi for huge sums. So, they go back in time and capture a snap of the freedom fighter with a digital camera. An English photographer standing beside them admires the photographic device he has never seen before.
In 2011, director Sampath Arumugam made his debut flick, Mahaan Kanakku, starring Ramana. The movie, way before its release, got stuck in controversy as it was initially named ‘Gandhi Kanakku‘, the term that is colloquially used to represent unaccountable or unpaid money during a transaction or loan. The movie’s plot is set around an anti-heroic protagonist who cheats banks by not paying any loan amount he avails of. A case was filed against the production house and the movie was renamed as ‘Mahaan Kanakku‘ as Gandhi is often called Gandhi Mahaan.
From an ideological point of view, Gandhi was referred in a deeper context in the Sundar C-starrer Aayudham Seivom (2008) directed by Udhayan. In the movie, a thug and his friend, a corrupt traffic sergeant, are given a punishment by the court to serve at Madurai Gandhi Museum for 15 days for creating traffic nuisance. It is in those 15 days, the character of both the convicts undergo transformation. Later in the movie, the thug goes on a satyagraha to bring a criminal to the spotlight and make Gandhi’s ideology succeed in the modern era.
One of the funniest scenes that showed the ground reality of youngsters having forgotten Gandhi was narrated in 2013 Sivakarthikeyan-starrer romantic comedy Varuthapadaatha Vaalibar Sangam. To take a dig at the hero who stalks school teacher Bindu Madhavi, his messenger, also the student of Bindu, asks him to come to her school the next day, where her teacher would be waiting for him. When he visits the school, it would be a disappointment as the school would be shut. It is then that he, through a street-side vendor, an old woman, comes to know that it is Gandhi Jayanthi, a public holiday.
Gandhi has been given a peculiar part to play in movies in not just serious shades, but comical and feel good ones as well. But, whatever the tone, the ideals of the leader have been reiterated in a way that would suit the audience of this age.