40 years of "Gandhi" in Patna: Old timers recall shooting at Collectorate, Digha Ghat

  • | Sunday | 3rd October, 2021

Patna, Oct 3 (PTI) The year was 1981, the landmark Gandhi Setu across Ganga had not been built, and celebrated filmmaker Richard Attenborough and his crew were in Patna shooting some of the key scenes for his biopic on the Mahatma that went on to win multiple Oscars and hearts of people.The movie immortalised Mohandas K Gandhi or "Bapu" as he would be fondly called and recalled by generations after generations, as also the historic buildings of the centuries-old Patna Collectorate which served as an iconic site for the filming of the Bihar scenes forty years ago that had set the capital city abuzz with excitement.Gandhi"s 152nd birth anniversary fell on Saturday and octogenarian Razi Ahmad, secretary of the Gandhi Sanghralaya in Patna, recalled the "Attenborough days of Patna"."He was a man of great details, and he wanted every scene to capture the essence of life and times of Gandhiji as it must have been back then. After arriving in Patna, he went around the city and Danapur, scouting for old buildings and locations that would help depict the era on screen as faithfully as possible," Ahmad told PTI.The avowed Gandhian even recalled the shooting at the Patna Collectorate, where the "Champaran scenes" were shot, and reminisced watching the British filmmaker in action."Attenborough"s equipment and all used to be kept on the premises of Gandhi Sanghralaya. And, he would move around from there. There was no bridge across Ganga from Patna side, the famous Gandhi Setu would come up a year later. And, he had huge cameras and other equipment, so going to Champaran from Patna was very difficult," Ahmad said, recalling the pre-Mahatma Gandhi Setu era.And, therefore after much consideration, "Attenborough sahab chose Patna Collectorate for recreation of the important Motihari scenes, as he saw in its buildings, a component he was looking for as part of his cinematic vocabulary," he recalled.In the iconic film, the Dutch-era Record Room of the Collectorate, was dressed up as a Motihari Jail, while the British-period DM Office was used for depicting the famous court room scene, a moment that turned Gandhi into Mahatma.Ahmad, who at times had ringside view of the shooting, recalled the "artificial rain" that was created outside the DM Office Building when "Gandhiji" played by actor Ben Kingsley, emerges out of the court room and into the corridor, acknowledging the crowd on the ground that chanted "Gandhiji, Gandhiji" in unison.The Patna-based Gandhian lamented that instead of celebrating this historic landmark as a heritage, more so its connect with the immortal classic "Gandhi", the Bihar government proposed to dismantle it in the name of development.Historians, scholars, conservation architects, Gandhians and many others have been appealing to the government since the demolition was proposed in 2016.Forty year later, many other old-timers also recalled that period of 1981, when the "Gandhi" crew was lodged at Hotel Maurya, near the Collectorate site, and how people will get excited to see actors, camerapersons and other crew members, when they stepped out for shooting.Sushanta Sengupta, 73, was posted at the Food Corporation of India"s office in Patna when the filming took place, and vividly recalls the sequence shot at the historic Digha Ghat railway halt that was located adjacent to the FCI storage depot next to the river Ganga."A contingent of film crew had arrived at the location, as it was not initially disclosed that a film will be shot there. Actors Ben Kingsley ("Gandhi") and Rohini Hatangaddi ("Kasturba") were prominently recognised and had make up on, and were waiting in a designated camp for the shoot to begin," he said.In the film, characters of Gandhi and Kasturba, are seen arriving at a station, marked with a "Motihari" board in the backdrop, and welcomed by locals with garlands. A huge crowd can be seen gathered near the station and on rooftops of buildings near it.Sengupta said, Kingsley looked like Gandhi himself had come, and people jostled to "see Gandhi ji", but local administration controlled the crowd and maintained law and order."The old station was part of the historic British-era Digha Ghat branch of the railways which was dismantled few years ago to make way for the multi-lane Atal Path. This line was our railway heritage, and wish it had been preserved for future generations," he rued.Scenes were also filmed at the famous 19th-century Koilwar Bridge, and Patna theatre actress Noor Fatima was there in a sequence.Atul Aditya Pandey, currently a professor of geology at the Patna University, was just 17 when the crew had arrived in Patna to film scenes for "Gandhi" in 1981."I remember the excitement among people around Hotel Maurya located in front of Gandhi Maidan, whenever the crew will return from shoot. I have done theatres and was part of "Damul" film too, and many senior theatre artists from Patna were made part of this project during Patna shoot. It was an exciting time for Patna," he recalled.The film released in 1982 won multiple Academy Awards, including for best film, best director, and best actor for Kingsley.London-based Gandhi Foundation, set up after the release of the film, too had appealed to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in 2016 to not dismantle the Patna Collectorate and instead celebrate the historic landmark"s link with the Oscar-winning biopic on the Mahatma. PTI KND TDS TDS

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