Gandhi’s Rendezvous with Movies

I thought Ram Rajya (1943) was the first and only movie that Gandhi had ever seen. So I was quite surprised when I found out that it was not the only movie that he had watched. Moreover, it appears that it was not even his first one!

According to this website he watched Ram Rajya in 1945:

‘Ram Rajya’ was shown to Mahatma Gandhi in 1945, when he was convalescing at Juhu. His secretary, Smt. Sushila Nayar, had given Vijay Bhatt only 40 minutes for “Bapu” to see the film. But the movie so engrossed him, that Mahatma Gandhi saw it for over 90 minutes, uninterrupted. Since it was a ‘moun’ [silence] day for him, he gave Bhatt a pat on the back at the end, to show his appreciation.

Ram Rajya, by the way, was a very successful film which ran for 100 weeks in a theatre in Bombay. The director and producer of the movie, Vijay Bhatt, went on to make another classic in 1952: Baiju Bawra.

In Gandhi: The Man, His People and the Empire Rajmohan Gandhi writes about the other movie that Gandhi had seen [Chapter 14: Rejected, Page 497]:

Twenty years earlier, released from Yerawada jail after an attack of appendicitis, Gandhi – a son of Porbandar – had gone to convalesce by the sea at Juhu in North Bombay. In May 1944 he turned once more to the Juhu beach, where he was again entertained by the Morarji family. On 21 May he was persuaded to watch Mission to Moscow, a Hollywood movie made to popularize America’s alliance with the Soviet Union, possibly the first talkie he had ever seen. It did not attract him to Stalin or Communism. [Emphasis is mine.]

So there. Michael Curtiz’s Mission to Moscow (1943) was the first movie that the Mahatma had watched. And that makes Ram Rajya the first Indian movie to have been seen by Gandhi.

[Hat Tip: At the Edge]

Divine Justice?

The idiotic claims from televangelist Pat Robertson — that the earthquake in Haiti may be a blessing in disguise and is a result of the pact the Haitians made long time ago with Satan to help them against French imperialists (video link) — reminds me of a similar speech made by Gandhi in 1934 to the victims of earthquake in rural Bihar.

On 15th January 1934, a colossal earthquake hit Bihar [...] The death toll was estimated at twenty thousand. Gandhi visited Bihar in March and spoke to the bereaved, destitute and homeless people. The earthquake, he told them, “is a chastisement of your sins.” And the particular sin that he had in mind was the enforcement of untouchability.

Even Gandhi’s closest supporters were horrified. The victims of the earthquake had included poor as well as rich [...] But Gandhi was explicitly blaming the victims, appropriating a terrible disaster to promote his own religious ideas. Nehru, who had been helping the relief efforts in Bihar, read Gandhi’s remarks “with a great shock”. But the most effective refutation came from Rabindranath Tagore, long one of the Mahatma’s greatest advocates. Tagore argued caustically that this supposedly “divine” justice, if such it was, constituted the least just form of punishment imaginable. [From Indian Summer, Tunzelmann]

Behind these types of – possibly noble yet misleading and plain wrong – claims lie the fundamental tenets of religion(s) that demand and propagate the need for a greater (divine) purpose of life and events. Once you give in to the belief that our existence in this world (and the existence of this universe) has a purpose; and explanation that is anything other than natural and rational, you’re in for a whole lot of nonsensical, unscientific, and dogmatic convictions (like God punishes you for your sins etc.) Here’s a passage from an article on Slate by Hitchen:

Earthquakes and tsunamis are to be expected and can even to some degree be anticipated. It’s idiotic to ask whose fault it is. The Earth’s thin shell was quaking and cracking millions of years before human sinners evolved, and it will still be wrenched and convulsed long after we are gone. These geological dislocations have no human-behavioral cause. The believers should relax; no educated person is going to ask their numerous gods “why” such disasters occur. A fault is not the same as a sin.

However, the believers can resist anything except temptation. Where would they be if such important and frightening things had natural and rational explanations?

Indeed, where would they be?

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