In the Tracks of the Mahatma: The Making of a Documentary
by A K Chettiar
In 1937, a 26-year-old Indian aboard a ship sailing from New York to Dublin, decided to make a documentary on the life of Mahatma Gandhi. Over the next few years he travelled some 100,000 miles collecting 50,000 feet of film footage, with the expectation and then the outbreak of the Second World War jeopardising his search. The footage had been shot by about a hundred different cameramen over three decades across four continents. In 1940, he edited this into a 12,000 feet documentary. It was released with Tamil commentary, and shortly after, with a Telugu voice-over. Fearing government repression, the film then went into hiding. On 15 August 1947, the film was screened in New Delhi as celebrations rent the air. A few years later, in 1953, he re-edited the film with English commentary in Hollywood and screened in the USA. In the Tracks of the Mahatma is the story of the making of this documentary in the words of the man who achieved this stupendous task: A.K. Chettiar. The Series: Gandhi Studies aspires to examine and elucidate the relationship between life and thought, between experiment and practice, and between Gandhiji and the institutions he founded and the experiments he inspired. Biographical studies of Gandhiji and his associates, histories of institutions and ideas, along with translations of scholarly and memoir literature from various Indian languages would form part of this endeavour. This series is committed to no one fixed way of understanding Gandhiji; it hopes like Gandhiji himself to be deeply dialogic.
- Orient BlackSwan, July 2012
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