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National Film Archives of India Obtains Rare Unedited Footage of Mahatma Gandhi

The major highlight of the discovery is a rare half-an-hour footage that has visuals of a special train carrying Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes from Madras to Rameshwaram.

Amitabh Sinha |

Updated:September 27, 2019, 7:39 PM IST
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National Film Archives of India Obtains Rare Unedited Footage of Mahatma Gandhi
The major highlight of the discovery is a rare half-an-hour footage that has visuals of a special train carrying Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes from Madras to Rameshwaram.

When the entire country is all set to celebrate 150th birth anniversary of a Mahatma Gandhi, National Film Archives of India, Pune has discovered 30 reels of unedited footage of Mahatma Gandhi of 6 hours duration.

These 35mm celluloid footages, unedited and stock shots with title cards in between, are taken by several prominent film studios of the time like Paramount, Pathe, Warner, Universal, British Movietone, Wadia Movietone etc. NFAI Director Prakash Malum confirms that these are some rare footages in this collection.

Visuals of special train carrying Mahatma's ashes

The major highlight of the discovery is a rare half an hour footage that has visuals of a special train carrying Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes from Madras to Rameshwaram. The stunning visuals shows thousands of people thronging to stations like Chettinad, Sivaganga, Manamadurai junction, Ramnad, Pudukkottai junctions in Tamil Nadu, with folded hands and tears in eyes to have a glimpse of the urn carrying 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.

Visuals of Mangilal Gandhi, Mahatma's Son

A visual showing MangKastruba gandhilal 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.

Mahatma Gandhi's South India Tour

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 like Sri Meenakshi temple at Madurai, Palani and Kumbakonam. The visuals also show Mahatma attending the silver jubilee celebration of Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha at Madras along with C Rajagopalachari.

Visuals of Mahatma and Kasturba engaged in activities

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 ploughing the field by a machine, tree plantation and serving the patients. An endearing visual shows Kasturaba feeding a cow in the Ashram.

Gandhi's sea voyage to England

Another reel in the collection has entire footage of Mahatma’s voyage on board ship S Rajaputana to England to attend the Second Round Table Conference. It has candid shots of Mahatma spinning yarn on the deck, looking through binocular, shaving, smiling, playing with children and at one point taking control of the ship with the Captain beside him!

Last day of Mahatma

The collection has visuals of his last days including that of 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.

Some rare footage

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 Subhas Chandra Bose. Many major political leaders of the time including Pt Nehru, Sardar Patel, Sarojini Naidu, Maulana Azad figures prominently in the footage. Mahatma’s meeting with Ravindranath Tagore also figures in the collection. There are extensive visuals of Mahatma’s visit to the UK and France that are covered by several film studios.Two reels having only audio that has the voice of Khan Abdul Gafar Khan, known as Frontier Gandhi.

Condolence meeting at UN after Mahatma's death

The condolence meeting at UN Headquarters just after Mahatma’s death are also part of this collection. Apart from representatives of several nations paying tribute, a visual of India’s representative at UN can be seen in the footage.

To sum it up, 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. NFAI made duplicate negative for long-term preservation and then copied it into Release Positive, which is an exhibition format which will soon be digitised. A treasure trove indeed

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