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Tuesday, 11 April, 2000, 20:47 GMT 21:47 UK
Gandhi film arouses passions

The film has attracted a great deal of criticism
By Geeta Pandey in Delhi

Yet another film has been made about India's independence leader, Mahatma Gandhi - and prompted a heated public reaction.

The film, Hey Ram, was made by one of India's leading stars, the Tamil actor and director Kamal Haasan.

I wanted to show him for the man he is

Director Kamal Haasan on Gandhi
India's Muslims say the film shows their community in bad light, while in Calcutta, Congress Party activists went on a rampage accusing the film of being anti-Gandhi.

The director, Kamal Haasan, also plays one the film's main characters, the fictional Saket Ram, an archaeologist, who makes it his life's mission to assassinate the Mahatma.

Controversial plot

Saket Ram is driven by the death of his wife who is raped and killed by Muslims during communal riots in Calcutta - a key event which preceded the partition of India in 1947.

Hindu extremist Shriram Abhyankar
He is aided by another character, Shriram Abhyankar, a Hindu extremist seeking revenge.

Abhyankar invites Saket Ram to join in the "hunt" for Muslims and passes on his hatred of Gandhi to Saket.

Eventually, Saket Ram realises his mistake and repents but before he can confess, Gandhi falls to the bullets of his assassin.

The film contains explicit scenes of communal violence and strong anti-Gandhi sentiments, which attracted severe criticism.

Gandhi revealed

Kamal Haasan says he made the film for himself, as a journey into his past.

He says he wanted to bring out the man in the Mahatma - a title which means "Great Soul".

"Some people don't want him to be a Mahatma. They don't like the word Mahatma because it makes him god-like," he said.

"I wanted to show him for the man he is, you strip him off everything, you put all criticism to him and still he comes out as a better man, that's what was surprising" he said.

But critics of the film say Kamal Haasan's motives are more commercial - Gandhi's name sells.

India's icon

The Mahatma's grandson, writer and historian, Rajmohan Gandhi, accepts that and says that everyone has the right to interpret Gandhi's life.

They held him responsible because he was supposed to be the father of the nation and he had not protected these children of his

Gandhi's grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi
"As children we grew up fully accepting and acknowledging the fact that he did belong to many more people besides us," he said.

"We cherished the few minutes we had with him, he was intensely affectionate, but there was no time for long story-telling - he was in the middle of the greatest battle of his life.

"Some ... people ... were also quite angry, because they had suffered greatly and they ... held him responsible because he was supposed to be the father of the nation and he had not protected these children of his," Rajmohan Gandhi said.

One of Gandhi's favourite hymns, used in Hey Ram, speaks of understanding other people's pain and serving those in need.

But more than 50 years after his death, Gandhi continues to stir up feelings and Kamal Haasan's film shows that the debate over his chosen path is far from over.

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01 Jan 00 | South Asia
Mahatma Gandhi 'greatest man'
18 Jul 98 | South Asia
Gandhi play banned
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