Mahatma Gandhi and Indian Cinema

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Mahatma Gandhi was a multi-faceted man, one whose writings spanned every subject under the sun, including: agriculture, education, science, sanitation, economics, literature, industry, women, children, health, family planning, religion, and, of course, politics. Many were surprised to learn of his prolific writing, and were astounded to hear that he had probably written more than anyone else in history (his collected works run to over 100 volumes, several hundred pages each).

Mahatma Gandhi was born during an era of progressive evolution of communication technology. Unfortunately, he was born in a country, which was under the clutches of foreign rule. Mahatma Gandhi, was a passionate opponent of modernity and technology, preferring the pencil to the typewriter, the loincloth to the business suit, the plowed field to the belching manufactory, printed words to moving pictures.

Moving pictures made its appearance in India at the beginning of the twentieth century, when the country was poised for major social and political changes. A society that had remained unchanged for centuries was being transformed in the face of technological innovations. Cars, airplanes, radio broadcasts and photograph records had recently been introduced, bringing with them new status symbols as well as access to foreign ideas. At the same time, the press had become a new force in the formation of public opinion as regional language newspapers, including those in Hindi, were being published around the country. It was against this background that cinema arrived. In the decades that followed it was to assume the dimensions of a major socio-cultural force.

Mahatma Gandhi expressed his disapproving ideas on cinema in 1927 when the Indian Cinematograph Committee sent him to him a request accompanied with a questionnaire, on what were his views on cinema. Gandhiji returned the questionnaire with an unfavourable comment in a letter address to T. Rangachriar, Chairman of the Committee, stating he had views to offer as he negated cinema as 'sinful technology'. The letter dated November 12,1927 said:"Even if was so minded, I should be unfit t o answer your questionnaire as I have never been a cinema. But even to outsiders that it has done and is doing is patent. The good if it has done at all, remains to be proved."

He even refused to send a message to a souvenir, which was to be published on the occasion of silver jubilee celebration of Indian cinema in1938. Mahatma 's secretary curtly replied "As a rule Gandhi gives messages only on rare occasions and this is only for a cause whose virtue is ever undoubtful. As for cinema industry, he has the least interest in it and one may not expect a word of appreciation from him."

Gandhi's dislike for cinema appeared a few times in Harijan, a paper edited by him. Gandhi said in an interview published in May 3,1942 issue of the paper. "If I began to organise picketing in respect of them (the evil of cinema), I should lose my caste, my mahatmaship…I may say that cinema films are often bad. About the radio I do not know."

Mahatma Gandhi's persistent aversion to this innovative tool of western technology created a virtual disappointment in the film circle in India. Even Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, the noted film personality wrote a long letter to Gandhi pleading him to reconsider his views on cinema. One interesting portion of his letter is, I think, worth mentioning here: " Today I bring for your scrutiny - and approval - a new toy my generation has learned to play with, the CINEMA! - You include cinema among evils like gambling, satta, horseracing etc..... Now if these statements had come from any other person, it was not necessary to be worried about them ... But your case is different. In view of the great position you hold in this country, and I may say in the world, even the slightest expression of your opinion carries much weight with millions of people. And one of the world's most useful inventions would be...
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