Some of the key scenes in multiple Oscar-winning biopic 'Gandhi', starring Ben Kingsley and featuring many local artists, were shot at the Dutch-era Record Room and British-era DM Office building of the over 250-year-old Patna Collectorate complex, whose fate currently hangs in the balance.
Gandhi first came to Patna on April 10, 1917 on his way to Champaran district. (Image: Patna district website)
From running a thematic light and sound show on the walls of Patna Collectorate to bringing out touristic souvenirs, Mahatma Gandhi’s admirers have appealed to the Bihar government to “celebrate and not sever Bapu’s link” with the historic landmark.
Some of the key scenes in multiple Oscar-winning biopic ‘Gandhi’, starring Ben Kingsley and featuring many local artists, were shot at the Dutch-era Record Room and British-era DM Office building of the over 250-year-old Patna Collectorate complex, whose fate currently hangs in the balance.
Ahead of the Bihar elections, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had on September 16 laid the foundation stone of the new complex to be built after razing the old one, but two days later, the Supreme Court put a stay on its demolition after hearing a plea by heritage body INTACH.
“We thought we had almost lost it. And, with Collectorate’s demolition, Patna’s link with Oscar-winning ‘Gandhi’ would also have been lost. This was no ordinary film, but an institution in itself, and it immortalised both Bapu and Patna in the cinematic realm. And, we do not see it as a reason to celebrate our city landmark, instead our state government is adamant on knocking it down,” said Rajiv Soni, a Patna native, now based in Kolkata.
Forty years ago, when Richard Attenborough and his crew flew down from London to shoot the film, Soni, had literally tailed them to catch a glimpse of the shoot that had also attracted local people.
“The government is lowering the historical and architectural value of the Collectorate, with the whole opium godown narrative, and they are even downplaying the Oscar connection now, just to justify demolition decision. It is not fair. On Gandhi’s 151st birth anniversary, I can only say, ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram, Sabko Sanmati De Bhagwan’,” said Soni, an avid follower of Gandhian values.
A retired marketing professional and passionate photographer and traveller, he suggested hosting Gandhi-themed light and sound show on his birth and death anniversaries in the Collectorate complex and use the walls of the buildings shown in the film to celebrate the legacy of the Father of the Nation and the globally acclaimed movie.
Delhi-based N Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Gandhi Peace Mission, said it was “contemptible” in the first place that a heritage building is facing the axe.
“We should preserve our built heritage for the current and the coming generations, as these buildings tell the story of the city where we came from and our urban evolution. Even if a roof or a part of it is damaged, we have the skills now to repair it. Restoration and not demolition is the answer. I hope the government will see the wisdom in it now that the apex court has put a stay,” he said.
Radhakrishnan, an avowed Gandhian, asserted that Oscar-winning film ‘Gandhi’ is a “priceless heritage” for the Mahatma’s followers.
“We feel proud of this biopic on Gandhi, and Patna Collectorate’s heritage buildings become even more special due to its link to that film, and therefore that connection should be celebrated and not severed by an act of demolition. I appeal to the government to not destroy the heritage and appreciate the cinematic legacy too,” he said.
Nitish Kumar, after laying of the foundation stone of the new complex of the Collectorate and a slew of other projects, had asked how could a building that “stored opium and saltpetre” in the past be considered heritage. His views have been countered by noted historians and heritage experts.
The Bihar chief minister, during the event, had also pooh-poohed the connection of the film ‘Gandhi’ to the Collectorate complex, suggesting it did not grant any special value to the centuries-old landmark.
Mumbai-based documentary filmmaker Raviraj Patel lamented that the government took such a “dim view” of built heritage.
“This film is not just a film anymore. It is part of the legends. While receiving the Oscar, both Kingsley and Attenborough had spoken effusively about the values Gandhiji stood for. Had any other city had this enviable Gandhi-Oscar connect, they would have marketed and branded the heritage buildings and the city,” he said.
Patel, who hails from Bihar, and has researched on the film, said he has a few photographs from the early 1980s of the movie being shot at the Patna Collectorate.
“So many local artists, including Noor Fatima, had worked in it. We should proudly showcase it. Instead of running a wrecking ball through it, we should have created souvenir shops and merchandises themed on its Patna connection, and the government would have earned revenues. Demolishing it would be myopic and criminal,” he said.
In the iconic film, the Dutch-era Record Room was dressed up as a Motihari prison, while the British-period DM Office was used for depicting the famous court room scene, a moment that turned Gandhi into Mahatma.
“We should appreciate that they came all the way from London to shoot. There was no Gandhi Setu then to cross the river. Carrying huge cameras and travelling with a crew would have been a logistical nightmare. Attenborough could have created the sets of Bihar in London, but they came here and the backdrop has real buildings from the colonial-era, as Gandhi would have seen in 1917,” Soni said.
“Attenborough immortalised Patna Collectorate too which is now battling to stay alive, ironically,” he said.
Patna Collectorate is one of the last surviving specimens of Dutch architecture in the city.
Lending a strong voice to the growing chorus for its preservation, the London-based Gandhi Foundation had in 2016 appealed to the chief minister to not dismantle the Patna Collectorate and instead, celebrate the historic building’s link with the Oscar-winning biopic on the Mahatma.
Gandhi first came to Patna on April 10, 1917 on his way to Champaran district, where he crusaded for peasants against forced indigo farming.
The Foundation had suggested linking the Patna Collectorate to the Gandhi circuit of tourism.