A week-long series of events held across South Africa to commemorate the 151st birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on October 2 ended on Thursday with a special screening of the 1996 film ‘The Making of the Mahatma’ by celebrated Indian film-maker Shyam Benegal.
The project was initiated by Anju Ranjan, the Consul General for India in Johannesburg, supported by the High Commission and her consular colleagues in Durban and Cape Town.
“We spent the last week on a special ‘Gandhi Trail’ trip, visiting many of the sites where he had led marches, the courts he was tried in, and the jails he had served sentences. So, it is appropriate to culminate the journey here this evening with this film that recreates all of that,” Ranjan said.
“We learned through this week’s activities how Gandhiji changed the face of both South Africa and India,” Ranjan elaborated.
The film screening was co-hosted by AB Moosa, CEO of the Avalon Group, whose paternal forebear Dada Abdullah was responsible for bringing the young lawyer Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to South Africa to fight a legal battle.
While on his way to Pretoria for this case, Gandhi was unceremoniously thrown off a train at Pietermaritzburg station because he was seated in a coach reserved for the whites. This sparked his decision to remain in South Africa for the subsequent two decades to fight discrimination through Satyagraha philosophy.
“That has shaped a lot of our ethos in terms of how we engage, not just in terms of our business, but in terms of ensuring that we honour the Mahatma’s legacy,” Moosa said.
”The Making of the Mahatma” was a 1996 Indo-South African period drama, which chronicled Gandhi”s tumultuous 21-year stay in South Africa. The film was based on the book, ”The Apprenticeship of a Mahatma,” by the late South African freedom fighter, Professor Fatima Meer, who also wrote the screenplay.
“I had the pleasure of being on the set when Shyam Benegal was making the film, and we worked closely with him on this production. When we see this type of content and reflect on the Gandhian philosophies, we hope it restores in us the important values and principles that he had espoused,” Moosa explained.
Shan Moodley, who had assisted as a novice film producer, lauded the film’s aesthetics despite being made on a “shoestring budget.”
“It was the combined genius of Ashok Mehta, the director of productions, and Benegal that made the film look more like an epic than a cheap movie. I recall how through their eyes we were able to do things at that time, with limited technology,” Moodley recalled.
Veteran activist Prema Naidoo, whose grandfather Thambi Naidoo was described as ‘Gandhi’s right-hand man”, said celebrating his birth in the year of India’s 75th anniversary of Independence made these celebrations extra special.
“Gandhi played an important role as a spiritual leader – who believed in honesty, Satyagraha non-violence, and action,” Naidoo said, as he also commended other leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Moulana Kalam Azad, and Bhagat Singh for their role in India”s freedom struggle.
Naidoo also recalled India’s role in supporting South Africa’s fight against apartheid.
“The African National Congress representative in India, Mosie Moola, was accorded full diplomatic status and he was highly recognised. Many of the ANC leaders who were in exile could not get South African passports for travel. It was the Indian government that gave them travel documents,” he added.