On Bihar Diwas, Oscar-winning 'Gandhi' landmark wallows in darkness

23 Mar 2018

The centenary of Mahatma Gandhi's Champaran Satyagraha, maybe the theme for the ongoing Bihar Diwas celebrations here, but at centuries-old Patna Collectorate, where some of the most iconic scenes in the Oscar-winning film 'Gandhi' were filmed, the mood is hardly festive.
The Collectorate was shown as the Motihari jail and court in the 1982 biopic by Richard Attenborough, but last evening while Gandhi Maidan became the epicentre of a cultural extravaganza, this heritage building sank into darkness by dusk.
City resident B P Gupta, who attended the grand function along with his two daughters, said, the Collectorate should have been lit-up to highlight its Gandhi connect. "A large number of major public buildings have been illuminated, as it is done ever year on the occasion. This year the theme is 'Champaran Satyagraha Centenary' but still the Collectorate has been left out of the ambit of festivities," he rued.
Gupta's daughter Mohini, a student at a college here, when asked about the significance of the building, said, she only knew that "Collectorate is a very old government building".
Her father interrupted, saying, "They (his daughters) were not even born when the film was being shot in early 1980s. But, by decorating it on Bihar Diwas, the youth can learn about these unknown facets of the city and its history."
Patna-born photographer and heritage activist Rajiv Soni, says he was in Patna when the film crew came to the city. "I had even followed them all the way up to Koelwar where the Sone bridge train scene was filmed," he said.
"It is sad and unfortunate that a historic building of Patna in which the famous Champaran Satyagraha scenes were filmed, moments that turned Gandhi into Mahatma, have not been made part of the Bihar Diwas celebrations," Soni told PTI. What is more ironic is that the Collectorate, located on the bank of Ganga, sits right in the vicinity of Gandhi Maidan," he rued, adding that "illuminating it would have been a fitting tribute".
From the Raj-era Patna Secretariat to the Assembly House, Vishwaisharaya Bhawan to Income-tax Building, major government buildings have been bathed in blue light to mark the 106th foundation anniversary of Bihar ('Bihar Diwas').
Many city residents still recall the crowd that had gathered outside the Dutch-era Record Room or "the artificial rain" created in front of the British-built DM Office during the shooting of the biopic by the British director.
While the Record Room with its Ionic column facade was used as Motihari Jail the DM Office was used for recreating Gandhi's famous Champaran trial of 1917.
The government had kicked-off a year-long Satyagraha centenary celebrations on April 10, 1917 marking hundred years of Gandhi's first arrival in Patna and Bihar, which will close with Bihar Diwas festivities.
Incidentally, a film festival has also been curated for the three-day event that began tomorrow, and Attenborough's 'Gandhi' is slated to be screened at Gandhi Maidan, alongside other films on the Mahatma.
The Champaran trial's centenary was on April 18 last year, but the Collectorate was not included in the Satyagraha commemoration events either.
Soni, who is also part of a civil society-led movement 'Save Historic Patna Collectorate', said, "How many cities in India can boast of an Oscar connect. And, that too related to a milestone film like 'Gandhi' which remains popular among people around the world."
The state government, in 2016, had proposed to demolish the Collectorate, endowed with high-ceilings and hanging skylights, to make way for a high-rise complex, triggering outrage.
The heritage body INTACH, along with the members of the civil society including historians, architects, former bureaucrats and judges, and the London-based Gandhi Foundation, had separately written to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, urging him to spare the building.
The chief minister had set up a panel to reconsider the decision. The fate of the Collectorate, on the banks of the Ganga, however, still hangs in the balance. (PTI)