This film is held by the BFI (ID: 353726).


Rarely seen footage of Gandhi filmed by his great nephew, Kanu.

Speaks to a large crowd, possibly outside a railway station. Gandhi and entourage walking along in wooded surroundings. They cross a bridge and enter a village where they are greeted by people and a `Triumphal Arch' made for his arrival. Gandhi outside his portable, personal bamboo hut. Gandhi and entourage walking along a forest trail. Gandhi on board ship; various shots of paddlesteamer - possibly crossing the Ganges. Shots of crowds awaiting his arrival. Moving out of Kushtia train station. Gandhi speaks to the crowd from a tent. The march again - Gandhi and entourage walk along amid water courses. Gandhi is flanked by Mann Gandhi, his grand-daughter, and Pyarelal Nayar. Gandhi at a table distributing fruit to children. Various shots of Gandhi and his entourage at different stages of their march. Pan of village. Marwari Relief Society vehicle. The entourage cross a bridge in a village and walk along a track. At a Red Cross camp/hospital. Gandhi talks to people. Gandhi seated talks to a crowd. Nirmal Kumar Bose, Gandhi's temporary secretary, is seated next to him. Gandhi sitting with villagers dancing around him. Gandhi spinning. More shots of walking and entering villages. Gandhi flanked by Sushila Nayar, his doctor. More march scenes. A crowd dances in front of Gandhi's hut with a man beating a drum. Gandhi walking from the doorway. The entourage on the road again, carrying of Congress flags much in evidence. Shots of a paddlesteamer. Harvesting coconuts, man climbing a palm, shots of oxen treading grain. A village destroyed in rioting; smashed pots; razed buildings; and villagers in their half-destroyed homes. Gandhi and party near water; a boat with bamboo covering. Gandhi gets out of the boat with Abba Gandhi (wife of his grand-nephew) and Pyarelal Nayar. Gandhi gets into boat and is poled along. He is helped out and gets into a car which drives off. Gandhi and entourage walking along. Gandhi getting out of boat, followed by a Congress politician. Scene in damaged villages. Gandhi being carried in a kind of sedan chair by two men. Gandhi flanked by Sushila Nayar and Abba Gandhi, with Congress politicians in the background. Gandhi gets back into the boat. Shots of damaged Hindu temples and figurines. Devasted villages; Nehru flanked by people from Gandhi's entourage, gives a garland of roses to a child, then walks along. Shots of man irrigating field.



By 1946 it was generally understood that India would gain independence from Britain. The pace and scale of change had yet to be determined, however. Although the Lahore Resolution of 1940 had posited the idea of a separate state of Pakistan, partition was not a certainty (Brown, 1994, 332). Political parties were nevertheless becoming increasingly divided along religious lines. Foreshadowing the troubles that accompanied partition, communal violence erupted in several areas. In Calcutta, following a day of ‘direct action’ by the Muslim League, around 4,000 people, the majority of whom were Muslims, were killed (Brown, 2001, 337). In October the troubles spread to the Noakhali and Tippera districts of East Bengal. Here the dominant Muslim population victimised Hindus. The Bengal government estimated that there were 218 casualties, although it is believed that some families failed to disclose killings out of fear (Fischer, 1951, 483). In addition, over 10,000 homes were looted; Hindu idols were smashed and temples desecrated; and  ‘thousands’ of Hindu women were forced to marry Muslims against their will (Fischer, 1951, 483).

In November 1946 Mahatma Gandhi headed for Bengal. No longer aligned with a political party, and opposed to partition, Gandhi sought to restore relations between Muslims and Hindus. He further stated that he was answering to the ‘cry of outraged womanhood’ (Fischer, 1951, 479). An itinerary was developed, whereby Gandhi visited a village a day, asking to be housed overnight by Muslim or Hindu residents. Now 77, Gandhi walked barefoot, and sometimes struggled to mount the tall bridges of the area (Fisher, 1951, 482). He spent much of his time with Hindu women and with the sick children of the villages (Gandhi, 2007, 556). Both Hindus and Muslims attended his prayer meetings, and it has been argued that during his stay ‘Relations had improved perceptibly’ (Fischer, 1951, 489). Gandhi had however been challenged over why he was not working in Bihar, where more widespread violence had broken out, this time with Muslims being the principal victims (Gandhi, 2007, 559). In March 1947 he left Bengal for this province.

Gandhi’s great nephew, Kanu, took this footage of the Bengal visit. Having privileged access, Kanu took many of the most famous stills photographs of Gandhi, several of which were used as source material for Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi(1982) (Kalathil). Gandhi allowed himself to be photographed by Kanu on the grounds that a flash camera would not be used and he would never pose (Kalathil).

A sizeable party accompanied Gandhi during his stay in Bengal, but he made a specific request for the company of his 19-year-old grandniece, Manu. In Bengal she agreed to his practice of brahmacharya, whereby the two of them slept together, sometimes naked, to test their vows of chastity (Gandhi, 2007, 548-55). Several of Gandhi’s followers questioned this practice, among them Kanu, whose 16-year-old wife Abha had been a reluctant participant in similar tests (Kamath, 2007, 107). 



Kanu Gandhi is adept at capturing some of the main elements of his great uncle’s visit to Bengal. He sets the scene by filming the excursion to the province – recording the trains and paddle steamers that took Gandhi there; capturing their approach; and filming while in motion on these vehicles. He also films the large crowds that greeted Gandhi during his journey, and there is footage of some of the speeches that he made to them. Also documented is the devastation in Bengal. Kanu films some of the desecrated idols and one of the looted villages. The majority of the film is taken up with Gandhi’s marches from village to village, however. Here Kanu captures the physical exertion; Gandhi’s reception; and also the homesteads in which he was put up overnight. Much of this footage is well framed: some sequences are filmed using water as a backdrop, others are shot through forest trees.

Kanu is skilled at working within his limitations. The footage is silent and so the substance of Gandhi’s speeches is lost. Kanu instead focuses upon their impact, regularly panning across the crowds, capturing both their size and their response. Gandhi does not pose for the camera, and Kanu regularly has to film from a distance. Nevertheless, Gandhi still has an iconic presence in this film. Some of this is due to Kanu’s filmmaking. He assumes good vantage points: during the village marches Kanu is usually ahead of the action, allowing Gandhi to progress towards the camera. When he is allowed closer to Gandhi, he captures valuable detail: he twice takes the opportunity to film his bare feet, before panning up to reveal the rest of him. The bare feet are just one part of Gandhi’s immediately recognisable image: his clothing; his cane; his glasses – all help to make him stand out no matter how large the crowd or from how great a distance he is filmed.

The footage is apparently unedited, and as such reveals some interesting recurrences. The first is related to the film’s own bias: it concentrates most fully upon the stages of Gandhi’s march and not upon the effects of the communal troubles. Although Gandhi’s visit does not appear to have been orchestrated for media purposes, this film is centred upon his actions. When not panning to reveal the scale of the attendant crowds, it is Gandhi who is kept centre screen. There is little extraneous material (it comes as a surprise when the film includes footage of coconut harvesting and oxen treading grain). Furthermore, it is the footage of Gandhi that is most thoughtfully composed: the film of the looted village suffers from unsteady and out-of-focus camerawork.

There are recurrences within the footage itself. A strong female presence becomes apparent. Firstly, there are Gandhi’s women helpers: during the marches he is always flanked by Abhu and/or Manu Gandhi. At certain times he can appear quite frail and he leans on them for support. Secondly, there are the women who greet him during the walk. Here he receives almost divine supplication: the women bow down before him; or garland him; or throw confetti-like substances. Also regularly recurring are the physical markers that punctuate the walk. There is a series of decorated arches, which Gandhi passes through before entering the villages. There is also a recurrence of bridges. Gandhi is seen making his unsteady way over at least ten of these. Kanu appears to want to capture the physical effort that Gandhi was expending on behalf of others. Finally, there is the recurrence of Indian National Congress flags. Although Gandhi had asked for them not to be carried, they are on prominent display during some of the stages of the walk; as such they serve as indicator that party politics were becoming unavoidable (Gandhi, 2007, 557).

Richard Osborne (February 2010)


Works Cited

Brown, Judith M., Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy, 2nd edn (Oxford: OUP, 1994).

Fischer, Louis, The Life of Mahatma Gandhi (London: Jonathan Cape, 1951).

Gandhi, Rajmohan, Gandhi: The Man, His People and the Empire (London: Haus Books, 2007).

Kalathil, Jayasree, Mahatma Gandhi – Noakhali March (1946), Mediatheque, BFI, London.

Kamath, M.V., Gandhi, A Spiritual Journey (New Delhi: Indus Source, 2007).




Technical Data

Running Time:
18 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Camera Operator