x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Hitler-Gandhi 'friendship' movie branded 'an insult'

Controversial Bollywood biopic alleging that Nazi dictator helped secure India's independence branded cheap publicity stunt.

Claims in the Bollywood film, Dear Friend Hitler, have caused an uproar in the UAE's Indian community. Aliya Bhatt, the daughter of the film's director Mahesh Bhatt, centre, with the cast members Anupam Kher, right, and Neha Dhupia at the launch of the movie in Mumbai.
Claims in the Bollywood film, Dear Friend Hitler, have caused an uproar in the UAE's Indian community. Aliya Bhatt, the daughter of the film's director Mahesh Bhatt, centre, with the cast members Anupam Kher, right, and Neha Dhupia at the launch of the movie in Mumbai.

DUBAI // A Bollywood film that claims Adolf Hitler played a part in India's fight for independence from British rule has upset senior members of the Indian community even before the first scenes have been filmed.

Leading community members in the UAE have angrily refuted claims the Nazi dictator had a hand in India's independence in 1947, and plan to boycott cinemas when Dear Friend Hitler is released later this year. Krishnamurthy Kumar, the founder of the Indian Fine Arts society, said he would never watch a movie in which Hitler and Gandhi - dubbed the Father of the Nation by Indians - are portrayed as allies.

"Even if it's a different perspective, I wouldn't want to see someone else's analysis of the Father of the Nation. My time could be better spent," said Mr Kumar, who has lived in Dubai for 38 years. "I wouldn't want to see any controversy about Gandhi." Film-makers have declined to reveal plot details about how Hitler helped India's freedom movement, citing controversy generated by the announcement of the title.

In India, the movie riled potential viewers ahead of filming next month. A small but vocal Jewish community are also opposed to the project, while the only Bollywood actor so far linked to the film has now pulled out. The movie draws on two letters written by Mahatma Gandhi, a lifelong proponent of non-violence, to Hitler. In letters written in 1939 and 1940, and reproduced in the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, he addresses Hitler as a "Dear friend" and signs off "your sincere friend".

David Paliakkara, the head of the Dubai-based charity the Gandhi Veekshanam Forum, said he believed the movie's strong characters would draw viewers. "Any movie about Gandhi and Hitler will be popular," said Mr Paliakkara, who set up the charity 30 years ago. "But 100 per cent Gandhi blood runs in our body. We believe in him, so we would not be interested." News of the film also caused controversy among the German expatriate community. Susanne Sporrer, the director of the Goethe Institute in Abu Dhabi, said she was aware of the short correspondence between Gandhi and Hitler.

"Addressing Hitler like that might have been naive but that doesn't turn Gandhi into an ally of the Third Reich, not at all," she said. Film-makers are entitled to their own interpretation, but had a duty to back this up with fact, she said. "This is fascinating material for a film. The film-maker has a responsibility. I hope he will be up to it." Anna Jenell, a teacher in Sharjah who is from Germany, said: "The filmmakers will have to take care over people's feelings and emotions, because Gandhi is loved."

Other Indians dismissed the movie as a publicity stunt and expressed discomfort about a film claiming a strong link between Hitler and Gandhi. "Many Indians will keep away, it's just for publicity, it taints our memory of Gandhi," said Jitesh Shah, a bank employee from Fujairah. "You should not link a man who preached non-violence to one known for violence." Using Hitler to raise publicity is not new in the region. In 2007, Conqueror, a real estate company, ran an advertisement with Hitler's image alongside the words, "Conqueror: The World is Yours", provoking angry phone calls to its Dubai office.

But the general manager of Conqueror, David Dakak, said the advertisement did generate interest. "Provocative ads always attract attention," he said. "I have no knowledge about the movie, but I have noticed that protestations appear only when Hitler is mentioned. For example we used Stalin's picture and we did not receive any complaints." In India, the debate rages on, with Jonathan Solomon, chairman of the Indian Jewish Federation in Mumbai, appealing to the producer not to go ahead.

"We are shocked this movie is being made," he said. Anil Sharma, the film's producer, insisted the movie would not glorify Hitler, but would focus on the last days of his life, and the pressures he faced. "The movie is about the history of that period. It's a misconception that we are portraying Hitler as a hero," he said. He said the film was still on track despite the decision of its leading actor, Anupam Kher, to pull out. Mr Kher said that anger among fans had prompted his decision.

"I wish to withdraw as I respect their sentiments," he said. @Email:rtalwar@thenational.ae