The National Film Archive of India (NFAI) has discovered 30 reels of unedited footage on Mahatma Gandhi that includes immersion of Gandhiji’s ashes in Madras and Rameshwaram.
The 35mm celluloid footage, unedited and stock shots with title cards in between, are taken by several prominent film studios of the time, such as Paramount, Pathe, Warner, Universal, British Movietone and Wadia Movietone.
“It is indeed a very wonderful discovery for NFAI, coming at a time when the entire world is celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. There seem to be some rare footages in this collection while many visuals are now part of available short films and documentaries. Some of these shots have been used but some visuals seem unique,” NFAI Director Prakash Magdum said.
The major highlight of the discovery is rare half-an-hour footage that has visuals of a special train carrying Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes from Madras to Rameshwaram. The stunning visuals show thousands of people thronging stations like Chettinad, Sivaganga, Chidambaram, Manamadurai junction, Ramnad and Pudukkottai junctions in Tamil Nadu, with folded hands and tears in eyes to have a glimpse of the urn carrying the Mahatma’s ashes.
The footage has visuals of a sea of humanity present at what looks like Marina beach in the then Madras city, jostling with each other carrying flags and banners to pay their last respects to the Mahatma.
The train stops at major stations for people to pay their tribute culminating in the journey at Rameshwaram, with several important politicians from Tamil Nadu taking part in the immersion ceremony.
A visual showing Manilal Gandhi seems to be a rare one from the collection. He was the second son of Mahatma Gandhi and served as the editor of ‘Indian Opinion’ a Gujarati-English weekly publication, at Phoenix, Durban in South Africa. There is a title card ‘Mahatma Gandhi’s Son’ while showing the visuals of Manilal Gandhi at an airport.
Another important footage shows Mahatma’s South India tour and Harijan Yatra in January-February 1946. The film, by Projection of India Pictures, shows the visuals of Gandhi at Manapparai Railway junction and then proceeding to visit prominent temples including the Meenakshi-Sundareswarar temple at Madurai, the Subramania shrine in Palani and those in Kumbakonam.
The visuals also show the Mahatma attending the silver jubilee celebration of Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha at Madras along with C Rajagopalachari.
The collection has a reel that showcases Mahatma and Kasturba engaged in various activities at Sevagram Ashram in Wardha, Maharashtra. There are visuals of Mahatma keenly taking part in tree plantation, serving the patients and in ploughing the field with a machine. An endearing visual shows Kasturaba feeding a cow in the Ashram.
Another reel in the collection has the entire footage of the Mahatma’s voyage onboard the ship SS Rajaputana to England to attend the Second Round Table Conference. It has candid shots of the Mahatma spinning yarn on the deck, looking through binoculars, shaving, smiling, playing with children and at one point taking control of the ship with the Captain beside him!
There are visuals of the Mahatma’s visit to Ahmedabad, Porbandar and Rajkot including raw footage of his empty house, the school he attended and the library register showing his name! The footage contains the Mahatma attending the annual programme of Shri Shivaji College somewhere in Maharashtra.
The collection has visuals of his last days including those from the period just after his death, close-ups of his body and blood-stained clothes, newspaper reports of the day, Birla House, people thronging to have a darshan and the procession to Raj Ghat.
There are several close-up shots of the Mahatma including some candid moments captured on camera. In one scene, the Mahatma is seen sharing a good laugh with an English gentleman in a train and at one moment he keeps his hand on the mouth of his fellow traveller.
In another shot, the Mahatma is seen taking a stroll on a beach and enjoying it. One visual shows him keenly listening to a music player at a public gathering. Another one catches the Mahatma exchanging and then coolly sharing a garland with a small girl with a mischievous smile.
The collection also has some rare visuals of VD Savarkar looking into the camera. There is also exclusive footage of Haripura Congress session with shots of Subhash Chandra Bose. Many major political leaders of the time including Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Sarojini Naidu and Maulana Azad figure prominently in the footage.
The Mahatma’s meeting with Rabindranath Tagore also figures in the collection. There are extensive visuals of the Mahatma’s visit to the UK and France, which are covered by several film studios.
There are two reels having only audio that has the voice of Khan Abdul Gafar Khan, known as Frontier Gandhi. It seems some footage is from the documentary film on Gandhi by AK Chettiar that was unavailable till now. Also, some footage seems to have found a place in a long documentary made by Vitthalbhai Jhaveri. Some visuals seem to be from Kanu Gandhi collection.
The condolence meeting at UN Headquarters just after Mahatma’s death is also part of this collection. Apart from representatives of several nations paying tribute, a visual of India’s representative at the UN can be seen in the footage.
“This is a fascinating visual collection of the Mahatma and a real surprise to find it in celluloid format in today’s times. The 35 mm footage is in Master Positive format and does not have sound. We have made duplicate negative for long-term preservation and then copied it into Release Positive, which is an exhibition format,” Prakash Magdum said.
“The primary inspection indicates the material is in good condition and we will soon plan to digitize it. We also plan to invite scholars and historians to throw more light and get information for cataloguing the entire collection,” he added.
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