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A Gandhian Affair – India’s Curious Portrayal of Love in Cinema’ review: All the Mahatma’s men

HARI NARAYAN

The worldview of Satyapriya, an engineer in the urban India of the late 1940s, is shaped by an unflinching commitment to truth as well as his grounding in Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. His short life as an uncompromising idealist, influenced by the ideals of the freedom movement, is marked by a total disavowal of wealth and desires. Sanjay Suri’s book does not mention Satyakam (1969); yet Satyapriya, the film’s lead character, epitomises the hero archetype that forms the book’s core.

A Gandhian Affair begins with a clinical observation of some well-known films released between 1948 and 1959, to demonstrate the ubiquity of this spirit of renunciation among the lead male characters of the era. From the Independence movement-inspired Shaheed and the spiritually-inclined Jogan, both starring Dilip Kumar; to the socially charged K.A. Abbas-scripted blockbusters like Awara and Shree 420, both Raj Kapoor ventures; to thrillers like the Dev Anand-starrer Baazi, the chapter agreeably gives examples of multiple occasions when the hero considers acquisition of wealth and yielding to sexual desires as dishonorable. However, Suri magnifies the subliminal influence of Gandhi.

Romantic idealism

To quote academic Akbar S. Ahmed, while the early-day protagonist’s philosophy, which he called ‘corrupt Gandhianism’ and ‘corrupt Hinduism’, took non-violence and universal brotherhood from Gandhi, his romantic idealism owed itself to Nehru and his thinking was also influenced by Indian traditional wisdom.

The average Hindi film protagonist, exemplified by Satyapriya, was hence a lower-middle-class, upper-caste, Hindu male. He was upwardly mobile, yet had the ability to spurn wealth. He romanced the heroine but placed a high value on celibacy. To cite Ashis Nandy, this belief system took shape because commercial Hindi films by themselves were premised on the sensitivities of the deracinated, urban, lower-middle-class, with the lead protagonist being caught between ‘two cultures, two lifestyles, and two visions of a desirable society.

 But how did this renunciation of wealth and desire square with a celebration of both in songs? As Suri suggests, this had to do with the relative tolerance of censor authorities. However, the Victorian codes that informed the Indian Cinematograph Act 1952 only partly explain this attitude.

Academic M. Madhava Prasad offered a historical analysis of this when he said that while kissing was deemed to belong to the private sphere, songs were in the realm of the public. Hence, the latter were considered by a patriarchal state as more acceptable than the former. Prasad postulated that the state, in alliance with the ‘premodern intermediate patriarch’ (the middle-class filmmaker in this case) reserved the right to itself when it came to showing ‘the private’ on screen, while it adopted a more indulgent attitude while presenting ‘the public’.

Suri’s book, while delightfully narrative, lacks a theoretical grounding that would have made it a handy reference material. Further, factual errors at some places mar the reading experience. For instance, the lyrics of Chaudhvin ka Chand are attributed to Sahir Ludhianvi instead of Shakeel Badayuni; and films like Aag (1948), Rahi (1953), and Insaniyat (1955) are considered top grossers.

A Gandhian Affair: India’s Curious Portrayal of Love in Cinema

A Gandhian Affair: India’s Curious Portrayal of Love in Cinema by   Sanjay Suri has won the award for the best book on cinema at the 67th National Film Awards. 

Courtesy: The Hindu

About Editor in chief

Ashok Palit has completed his graduation from Upendranath College Soro, Balasore and post graduation from Utkal University in Odia Language and literture.. He has also carved out a niche for himself as a scribe of eminence after joining the profession in 1988. He is also an independent media production professional. He brings loads of experience to Advanced Media, Ashok Palit as a cineaste has been active in film criticism for over three decades. As a film society activist, he soared to eminence for his profound commitment to the art film appreciation and aesthetics of cinema. His mode of discourse is often erudite but always lucid and comprehensible marked by a perfect acumen so rare in the field. A film aesthete with an immense fond of critical sensibilities, he wrote about growth and development of odia cinema in New Indian Express, The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Asian Age and Screen. He has been working as an Editor for Cine Samaya from 2002-2004.. He had made solid contribution on cinema in many odia Dailies and weekly such as Samaj, Prajatantra, Dharatri, Samaya, Satabadi, and weekly Samaya.

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