Making of the Mahatma

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To play Gandhi for Samvidhaan, actor Neeraj Kabi also learnt to spin a charkha. To play Gandhi for Samvidhaan, actor Neeraj Kabi also learnt to spin a charkha.
SummaryTo play Gandhi for Samvidhaan, actor Neeraj Kabi also learnt to spin a charkha.

Actor Neeraj Kabi keeps going back to Mahatma Gandhi. During his college days, the basic Gandhian principles — honesty and truthfulness — were a constant inspiration to him. In the later years, these philosophies continued to have a more profound effect on his craft. To play Maitreya in Ship of Theseus, Kabi lost 17 kilos as his character refuses to take medicines that have been tested on animals. “Maitreya’s strict adherence to non-violence is almost Gandhian,” he says.

As the actor’s body became frailer during the making of the film, he experienced changes within him. Once a hardcore non-vegetarian, Kabi turned vegetarian by the time the shooting of the film ended.

Now, Kabi has come to understand Gandhi and his philosophy better as he plays his Gandhi in Shyam Benegal’s new television mini-series — Samvidhaan — which goes on air early next year. “Everybody thinks of Gandhi as a simple man, but the life he was talking about or was living wasn’t simple at all. Satyagraha and charkha were simple ideas, but complex to execute,” he says.

Kabi watched documentaries, online footage of Gandhi and read a lot about him while preparing himself for this assignment. “The research for this role helped me a lot in getting into the depths of the man,” he says.

Depth is something Kabi is always striving for; whether it is the lack of it in mainstream films that kept him away from it for about a decade, or his role in the mini-series. “I bought a charkha from a Gandhi centre in Mumbai’s Churchgate recently. Even though the serial does not show me spinning a charkha, I have been practising it to understand Gandhiji’s philosophy better,” says Kabi, who is currently shooting for it in Film City, Mumbai. For the 46-year-old, further assistance in playing the role of Gandhi comes from prosthetics and make-up.

“Physically, I am trying to get as close as I can to his character — the old age, the slur and hunch,” the actor says. He hasn’t used artifices like dentures, but has tried to get into the “soul and heart” of the man instead. “I have tried to meditate on the character,” says Kabi, who has been training children in drama and martial arts in his decade-long struggle to break through as an actor in films.

For the role in Samvidhaan, Kabi lost some more weight. “Gandhi had a relatively small role

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