‘I learned professionalism from working on Gandhi’ 

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 12 January 2019

Rohini Hattangadi and Govind Nihalani share their experiences of working on Mahatma’s biopic

Pune: When two significant names from the Indian film fraternity and television industry - Govind Nihalani and Rohini Hattangadi - come together to share stories from their professional lives, the audience is bound to feel richer. Not only did those episodes signal a turnaround in the actor and film-maker’s life, they also served as an example for aspiring filmmaking professionals on what to do and what not to do.

The duo along with noted filmmaker Dr Jabbar Patel, inaugurated the 17th Pune International Film Festival’s new initiative PIFF Forum. This year, the festival’s theme is ‘In Search of Truth’ and it pays a special tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, whose 150th birth anniversary we are celebrating. A special exhibition of film posters has been put up by PIFF and NFAI. All these films have connection with Gandhi and the ideals he has espoused.
 
Both Nihalani and Hattangadi were a part of Richard Attenborough’s seminal film, Gandhi. In their conversation with Patel, the veteran artists, shared the experience of working on the film. Hattangadi, who was then three films old, was chosen to play Kasturba in the film and her first reaction, she said, was, “I was thrilled to play a character whose graph ranged from the 20s to 70s. But I must admit that I wasn’t aware of the magnitude of Gandhi. Bhakti Barve and Smita Patil too were being considered, but I was chosen because Sir Richard thought I shared physical resemblance with Kasturba. After that I started researching on my character and Gandhi, of course.”

Nihalani was selected as director of the second unit of the film purely because the makers had liked his work in Aakrosh, which was the cinematographer’s first directorial. “The director of photography had recommended my name. He liked the way I had set up a particular scene in Aakrosh. Interestingly, Attenborough handed me the script of Gandhi and asked me to read it, and work on the film, only if I agreed with it. After reading the script, I met Attenborough, and asked him, that the script had no mention of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. The filmmaker explained, ‘Netaji is such a towering figure that having him in the film, playing a secondary figure, didn’t seem right to me. I would rather make a separate film on Bose’. That made sense to me.”

He added, “What I learned from working on Gandhi was professionalism. A foreign crew working on a huge project as this finished their work on the date they mentioned. They said they would start shooting on a particular day and wrap on another day, and they did exactly that.”

Hattangadi, who has worked in movies like Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai, Arth and Saransh, also shared her thoughts on the British filmmaker’s efficiency. “Before Gandhi, I had worked in Saeed Mirza’s films. Parallel cinema then was a lot more efficient then. We had bound scripts. The actors also did their research. So when I did a few commercial movies after Gandhi, the differences in the working style was glaring,” she added. 

Patel also mentioned her work in theatre, and her association with Ebrahim Alkazi, who was her guru in National School of Drama. The actor said that being trained in theatre acting has helped her to get into the skin of various characters - be it on television, films or plays. She said, “Alkazi was a complete teacher. He knew the strengths of each of his student, so he never praised or criticised too much. He also taught us the need of a ‘purpose’ to be on the stage.”

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