Gandhi, My Father (2007)





Director:     Feroz Abbas Khan. 

Starring:    Akshaye Khanna (Harilal M. 'Hari' Gandhi / Pranlal Mehta / Abdullah),  Darshan Jariwala (Mohandas Karamchand 'Mahatma' 'Bapu' Gandhi),  Shefali Shetty (Kasturba M. 'Kastur' 'Ba' Gandhi),  Bhoomika Chawla (Gulab H. Gandhi),  Daniel Janks (Henry Polak),  Ilanit Shapiro (Sonja Schlesin),  Mithilesh Chaturvedi (Zakaria),  Rajendranath Zutshi (Grieving Fast Food Stall Owner),  Bomie E. Dotiwala (Photographer),  Gregg Viljoen (General Ian Smutts),  Rustom Irani (Mahadev Desai),  Nayan Shukla (Jeevan),  Padmesh Rawal (Narottamdas),  Dharmendra Gohil (Harilal's Arya Samaj room-mate),  Mona Ambegaonkar (Prostitute).

Gandhi and his eldest son's bad relationship ( in South Africa and  India)


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

June 1948, Bombay, India.  A homeless man who looks like a real bum, with dirty clothes, dirty body and disheveled hair, is brought into a hospital.  He was found outside Grant Road railway station.  He has been mostly unconscious, but does speak sometimes. 

Flashback.  Rajkot India, 1906.  A group of young women watch a soccer game.  One of them shouts out for Harilal Gandhi when he scores a goal. 

Back to the present.  The hospital people ask the man what's his name?  He says his last name is Gandhi. 

Flashback.  Phoenix Settlement, Durban, South Africa.  A white journalist named Henry complains to Gandhi about his not carefully proof-reading the work of the type setters.  For instance, the headline of his story is "He's dead and buried", but it was printed as "He's dead and burned".  Henry tells Gandhi he will proof read all his own stuff from now on. 

Gandhi speaks with his wife Kastur.  They have received a letter from Rajkot from his son, who they call Hari.  Gandhi wanted his eldest son to stay to get an education in India in his native tongue.  They have three more sons:  Manilal, Ramdas and Devdas.  Mom wants them all to have a formal education. 

Hari writes that he wants to get married.  Gandhi and his wife married at the age of 13.  But as regards Hari, Gandhi asks what's the hurry?  Kastur reminds her husband that he himself chose Gulab for Hari and they were engaged four years ago.  Gandhi says if Hari marries against his wishes, he can marry, but he won't be his son any more.  This shocks Kastur. 

Rajkot, India.  There is a marriage ceremony for Hari and Gulab.  Hari's father has not disowned him, but he is disappointed in his son.  Hari wants to be a barrister like his father, but he fears his father the most of all.  His wife tells him that his father needs him.  Hari goes to Durban, South Africa. 

Durban, South Africa.  Kastur says to her husband that he did not go to the railway station to pick up Hari.  Gandhi says there is so little time now.  Kastur asks him:  "Is your family a hindrance?"  Gandhi says that he's happy Hari is here.  He happily greets his son upon his arrival.  A little later dad scolds his son for reading romance novels. 

Hari is sad that he is separated from his wife.  Gandhi's secretary sees a photo of his pretty wife and asks Gandhi how can he keep the lovely couple apart?  Gandhi thinks about it and soon tells his secretary to bring his daughter-in-law over to South Africa as soon as possible. 

Phoenix Settlement, South Africa.  (Gandhi established the Phoenix Settlement.)  Gandhi walks on the sidewalk with a white barrister.  A white policeman rudely throws him off the pavement and onto the ground and then kicks him, saying that he is a coulee and cannot walk on the sidewalk.  The other lawyer is appalled at this, but the policemen is not penitent since he is just enforcing the law.   

Back to the present.  The hospital personnel do not believe that this bum is the son of the national treasure, the late Gandhi. 

Flashback.  Gandhi is arrested because he refused to carry a pass or be finger-printed in accordance with some laws that are part of the larger apartheid system.  About the passport, Gandhi tells a crowd:  "This badge of slavery, we shall not carry."  Instead, they will burn the registration permits in public. 

Hari still wants to be a barrister, but his father uses the excuses that Hari is moving too fast and that he needs Hari to help him with the struggle against apartheid.  Gandhi takes the position that anything of importance a  man can learn through formal education, he can learn through the struggle against injustice.

In the struggle against injustice, Hair gets arrested.  His wife is now with him and they soon have a daughter that they name Rami. 

Gandhi says that they are returning to India, but he wants Hari to stay in South Africa because he is needed there to fight oppression.  Other members of the family tell Hari that he must support his father and his causes.  If Hari gets tired, then he can come to India.  Hari doesn't take this well at all.  Gandhi wants his children to be soldiers against injustice.

A supporter of Gandhi gives him a free scholarship for a formal education in London, England.  Hari wants that scholarship and is crushed when his father tells him that he is giving the scholarship to Hari's cousin. Hari gets up and walks away from his father. 

Back to the present.  The hospital people still wonder about who this drunkard, beggar, destitute person is. 

Flashback.  Tolstoy Farm, Johannesburg, South Africa.  At home Gandhi tells his wife that from now on, she is his mistress.  This upsets Kastur who sends the children out of the room.  Gandhi explains that according to General Smuts of the government, all marriages not registered in Christian law are null and void. 

Gandhi is a bit angry with Hari's cousin because he quit mid-way on his scholarship.  So now he has chosen another young man to take the scholarship.  Hari is upset all over again about the matter.  He leaves.  Kastur says to Gandhi:  "It's always your work, your ideals.  What about the children?  . . . why discriminate against your own children. . . . For once, listen to your children."

Delgo Port.  Hari asks for free passage to India.  The clerk looks at Hari's last name and is skeptical about Hari.  He rudely tells him:  "Go back home!  Your father is waiting for you."  Hari returns home with his head down.  Gandhi speaks with his son and asks him if he wishes to say something?  He gives Hari permission to speak frankly.  So Hari says he never had a father.  There was never a kind word for him.  He says he has no education, no family, no future.  Hari adds that Gandhi cut his wings.  He feels suffocated by the dreams of his father.  His dad says:  "I depend on you."  Hari insists:  "I must find my own path, search for my own identity."  Dad continues to talk, but the son asks him to please leave him alone.  He desperately wants to go home.  He misses his wife and children.  Gandhi kind of admits the truth in what his son is saying.  He says he would like it that when Harry thinks of his father, he would forgive him.  Hari goes home to India to his wife and children. 

Ahmedabad, India.  Hari has been studying hard, but does too badly in a number of subjects.  He finally gets fed up with his educational  failures and says enough of studies.

It is time for Gandhi to return to India.  A South African British politician there to say goodbye to him, tells the gathered crowd that he is delighted that Gandhi is leaving.  He says Gandhi is not a saint trying to be a politician, but a politician trying to become a saint. 

India 1915.  There are four grandchildren by Hari now for his parents:  Rami, Kanti, Rasik and Shanti.  But Hari has serious financial problems.  And his father disappoints him again.  He says he can't help Hari financially because he put all his money into the trust in South Africa.  And he signed away his rights to his family inheritance.  He tells Hari to stand on his on two feet.  Take a job!

Gulab vents her frustration about her economic situation to Hari.  Hari says he is uneducated and unemployed.  Upset, Hari goes through the streets shouting the same thing to everyone around him:  "I'm the good for nothing son of Mohandas Gandhi."  He cries.  Gulab cries. 

Hari write a letter to his dad in which he holds him responsible for his terrible economic situation.  Gandhi says to his wife that they will just have to put up with Hari's angst. 

Back to the present.  Hari is still in the hospital. 

Flashback.  Gandhi starts his spinning wheel campaign to boycott foreign cloth and to wear only Indian spun cloth. 

Calcutta, India.  Hari is promoted to cashier at the factory.  This is finally some good news for Gulab, but this is countered by Hari's stupid idea.  He has bought foreign cloth in bulk.  He thinks as World War I continues, there will be a shortage of foreign cloth and buyers will be willing to spend higher prices to get the cloth.  Gulab listens to his ideas, but tells him:  "You are not doing the right thing."  Hari is upset again and he tells his wife:  "I want your support."

Gandhi speaks to his son's employer.  He knows that the employer gave Hari the job to please him, Gandhi.  And then Hari swindled the employer out of 30,000 rupees.  Gandhi tells the employer to fire his son and file a case of fraud against him.  He adds that if he still was a barrister, he would have taken the case against his son.  He finishes up by saying if the man cherishes their relationship, he will file the case against Hari, and let the courts decide. 

A man cheated by Hari wants his money back.  He shouts through the door at Gulab.  Hari comes home drunk.  Gulab is angry with him.  She tells him not to touch her.  She tells her husband that he has gone too far, committing fraud and cheating.  And the war ended earlier than Hari thought, which made the demand for foreign cloth plummet. Gulab tells Hari that she is going home to live with her parents.  Hari is devastated. 

Sabarmati Ashram, India.  Gulab tells Gandhi that she is leaving and taking the children with her.  She cries and walks away. 

Telegram for Hari!  It says that his son Shanti has died of cholera and Gulab is gravely ill.  "Come soon."  Hari goes to see his wife.  When he arrives he discovers that his wife has died.  Gandhi asks Hari, on a train, to come to the Ashram and live with his parents.  He adds:  "Forget the past!"  Hari says nothing.    Gandhi gets off the train. 

Gandhi and Kastur watch the grandchildren.  Hari sells supplies to various stores.  After work he talks with his father who tells Hari that he is his brave soldier.  He says that Hari was the first Indian passive resister to be arrested in South Africa. Gandhi asks Hari to join the struggle. Hari does so.  He speaks at some mass demonstrations. 

One day Hari is told that some people want to meet him.  Hari meets with them The large group of men say that have paid Hari's bills.  They want to start a business and will use Hari's name, not his father's name.  They tell Hari that this way he can be financially independent of his father.  They also tell him to leave all the details to them. 

Back to the present.  A hospital worker wants to know if they have found any of the man's relatives yet?  No is the answer. 

Flashback.  1925.  An elderly man comes to Gandhi to say he invested in Hari's company, but now he has nothing.  They advertised using Gandhi's photos and this is why he put his money in the company.  Now he's ruined.  Gandhi is upset.  Hari is arrested.  Gandhi feels he has to let people know that he and his son are not involved in any businesses together.  But in his letter to that effect, he goes even further to say:  "I am not related to him in any way."

1934.  Poona, India.  Gandhi asks for money to eradicate the curse of Untouchability.    But upstairs from the crowd is a group of Hindus who shout at Gandhi that they will not allow an Untouchable into their temples.  Then they shout:  "Down with Gandhi!"

Hari comes home to his mother.  She asks him where has he been?  They have been looking for him all over the place.  Gandhi comes in and is happy to see Hari.  But he asks Hari how will he replay his debts.  Hari says he doesn't know and he doesn't care. He leaves. 

Gandhi and his wife get in a car in the middle of the street.  There are a great many of his followers there.  All of a sudden a big explosion goes off in the street, but Gandhi and his wife are not hurt at all.  There are, however, a lot of people lying in the street.  Gandhi runs to them to see if he can save them. 

Hari is with a prostitute.  He finishes and leaves. Two guys come up to him and Hari starts running from them.  They catch up with him and say that the Muslim Zakaria-saheb wants to speak with him.  So Hari goes with the men.  Zakaria-saheb tells Hari that they have paid all his debts.  Hari in turn will become a Muslim.  Zakaria says that now he is part of the family. 

Gandhi and his wife are at the sea upset.  Gandhi says that Hari has sold his soul to the highest bidder.  His new Muslim name is Abdullah. 

Hari is publicly drunk and gets arrested.  He goes farther down hill by saying Gandhi should change religions to become a Muslim.  Zakaria has a talk with Hari and tells him that he is embarrassing them and misusing their hospitality.  He then brings in Hari's mother to talk to him.  She tells Hari that he has changed a lot.  Now he seems to be in the newspapers all the time.  She asks him what should she say to his children?  She also wants to know why he abuses the family religion.  She pleads with him to spare the family because she is too old to bear this pain.  Mother says that she is very, very tired.  She adds:  "I am defeated now."  She wants him to come back to the Hindu faith. 

Hari can't straighten up.  He looks like a bum when his father and mother see him next.  At one of his parent's railway stops, he pushes his way to the front of the crowd and speaks to them through their train window.  He really favors his mother and says little to his father.  They ask Hari if he will come with them, but he refuses.  His mother cries. 

August 8, 1942, Bombay, India.  Gandhi's new mantra is do or die.  That is, free India or die.  Gandhi is arrested and held in house arrest in a palatial mansion.  Some 300,000 British live in India.  Hari comes with a white policeman to see his mother.  The policemen doesn't trust the disheveled Hari.  Mrs. Gandhi tells the policeman to let Hari come in and sit by her.  Hari comes in and it doesn't take long before she asks her son:  "Are you drunk?"  She then asks:  "You come drunk to meet me? You have no shame!  You go away!"  She tells the policeman to take him away.  She cries. 

Gandhi opposes the idea of the creation of a separate Muslim nation called Pakistan. 

Hari's mother is not well at all.  And she worries about Hari saying:  "What will happen to Hari after me?"  She asks Gandhi to promise her that he will take care of Hari when she is gone.  Gandhi says he will.  Mrs. Gandhi dies. 

The Muslim League demands separation.  A virtual holocaust begins with Muslims and Hindus killing each other in large numbers.  Even Gandhi has stones thrown at him.  He shouts to these people to come out and kill him.  That way at least, he says, he will be spared having to witness this inhumanity and cruelty. 

Gandhi tells some people that the two greatest personal regrets he has is that he could never convince two people to change their minds.  One was the leader of Pakistan, Jinnah, and the other was his own son, Hari. 

August 14, 1947.  India is all set to become independent the next day.  Gandhi finally agrees to the religious partition of India.  The greatest migration in history starts.  It is accompanied by daily massacres of innocents. 

Hari is homeless.

Back to the present.  Hari continues to suffer while being in the hospital. 

Flashback.  January 30, 1948.  Gandhi is assassinated by a Hindu extremist.  Hari is in a bar.  The owner is so upset over the loss of Gandhi that he asks every to leave.  He is closing the bar. 

January 31, 1948 is the day of the cremation.  Hari is just one of thousands of people who have come to mourn Gandhi. 

Back to the present.  June 18, 1948.  Five months after Gandhi's death, Harilal Gandhi dies in a hospital in Bombay, India. 


Good movie.  My wife and I both enjoyed it.  And we both felt sorry for Gandhi's son Hari.  Gandhi was a great man who did great things, but as a father he was a miserable failure to Hari.  He used his son in the causes he supported and believed in, but never really asked or cared about what Hari wanted to do.  And when Hari was down and out financially, his father couldn't help him at all because he had given all his money away to his causes and gave up his inheritance rights.  His father also denied Hari a chance for a formal education in London on a scholarship in favor of his cousin.  Maybe the man who summarized it the best was the white British South African politician who said that Gandhi was a politician trying to be a saint.  And in trying to become a saint, he was willing to force his loved ones to sacrifice everything for him and his causes without them really having the freedom and independence to even object effectively.  Gandhi may have been a great politician, but he was no saint.  He couldn't even be fair to his own children.  In wanting to be a saint, he became too self-centered, too egotistical and could not even see what he was doing to those supposedly the closest to him.  Gandhi, it wasn't about you and you being a saint.  It was about the movement against injustice. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)