Rohini Hattangadi, actor
When I was cast in Gandhi (1982), my first thought was, “Gandhi pe kya film banega? Itna kya hai? (How will a film on Gandhi be made? What is there to say?).” Since I am from the post-Independence generation, until then I knew Gandhi only from history books and a few stories. It was when I read his autobiography, Satya ke Prayog (The Story of My Experiments with Truth, 1927) that I learned how interesting Gandhiji’s life had been.
I started looking for more material on Kasturba, who I was playing in the film. I could find only two books in Hindi in Delhi. The relationship between Gandhiji and Kasturba was interesting to me. All his life, Gandhiji was out to break traditions and Kasturba was the person on whom he tried out his ideas.
Gandhiji had studied in England but he turned out to be an unsuccessful lawyer in Porbandar, India. When he headed out to South Africa, Kasturba had to go with him. He knew the etiquette of the English because of his stay in England, and, in South Africa, Kasturba had to wear saris draped in the Parsi style, with Elizabethan-style blouses and even shoes. She had to sit at a table and eat with a fork and a knife. These came as a shock to her, but Gandhiji was adamant.
His struggle for identity began in South Africa. He had to go to jail and his opinions were changing. Kasturba had to change with him.
Gandhiji was stubborn — it was a trait that got us freedom — as was Kasturba, but she also understood him perfectly. When it came to cleaning latrines, Kasturba had objected but, later, supported him. She also did not like that her children were not admitted to a school but taught at the ashram. When Harilal went to jail, Gandhiji said that what the boy got there was sahi shiksha (good education).
Gandhiji wanted Kasturba to do many radical things because he knew that before you advise others, you must try out your beliefs on yourself and in your home. Gradually, Kasturba understood the power of education, satyagraha, cleanliness and hygiene.
After shooting Gandhi, his teachings remained with me. I became more patient and kinder towards people. I started giving people third chances. Gandhiji’s teachings are difficult to follow in regular life, but, if you stay committed, you will find yourself a better person and at peace with yourself.
It also strikes me that Gandhiji had used the strategy of non-violence because, having studied in England, he understood the colonial masters. He knew that the British have a sense of righteousness and nobility. He appealed to this to compel them to talk and listen to him and grant his demands. I often think, “If it were some other country ruling us, would he have said that if somebody slaps you on one cheek, you should turn the other cheek?”. There are countries that would readily slap you on the second cheek and some more, and feel no remorse. The English were different. Maybe Gandhiji would have changed his strategy for another kind of rulers.