Teri C. McLuhan, who spent 22 years making a film about Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, whom she initially knew nothing about, says through “The Frontier Gandhi – Badshah Khan, a Torch for Peace” she has managed to “water the seed of a plant sown” by the Pashtun freedom fighter to bring about harmony.
The Canadian filmmaker’s film on the founder of a pacifist movement among Pakhtuns was screened in India for the first time at the Ladakh International Film Festival Saturday and the audience stood united in giving the movie, and its maker, a standing ovation.
McLuhan, the daughter of renowned Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan, was moved.
“There was enormous amount of research involved. Remember, we are talking about three countries, which are not necessarily in harmony – India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. And this man’s life spanned the three countries. My goal was to bring some kind of harmony into these three countries through the light of the remarkable individual,” McLuhan said here in an interaction.
Made in 2008, the 88-minute documentary introduces the man that Ghaffar Khan was, his principles, his urge to promote non-violence, his close association with Mahatma Gandhi, his struggles, his achievements, and so forth.
What makes it an interesting watch is that rare footage and photographs from his time find place in the movie. It is also backed by interactions with some of his family members, associates, members of his Khudai Khidmatgar movement, journalists, researchers and Indian politicians Salman Khurshid, Hamid Ansari and I.K. Gujral as well as former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf.
“It was not easy at all and it was very expensive. The archival footage alone came from five countries. Much of it was moved out of different countries quietly because not everybody is for the film, and by that I mean not everybody is for peace,” she said.
McLuhan believes she was “marked to tell the story” of a man who belonged to the world.
“Yes, he was a Pakhtun and a devout Muslim, but also a figure that belongs to each one of us. Otherwise why would a Canadian take up this story?” she reasoned.
Interestingly, McLuhan was came to know about Ghaffar Khan through a book, which was gifted to her during an India visit.
She read it several weeks later, but it gripped her. At that point, she announced that she would be making a movie on him and that it could take her two to three years to make it, but it took her 22 long years.
She admits she faced roadblocks while making it, and that she continues to face challenges in marketing the movie.
“My work has previously been marketed internationally. But I was a bit shocked that I had continued to encounter roadblocks (for ‘The Frontier Gandhi’).”
“I understand the reasons. One of them is that we’re dealing with very powerful stereotypes, and there is a stereotype that exists for Islam that is extremely uncomfortable for people, and it is one which portrays Islam as unredeeming and violent,” she said.
“The story of this man’s courage, and his moral and spiritual attitude and the profound absence of doubt in his life turns that stereotype by 180 degrees that makes people uncomfortable. That’s one reason why I have been encountering resistance for the film. But I am not going to give up. Persistence beats resistance,” said the filmmaker.
After watching the film, when a viewer asked her if she felt that all of Ghaffar Khan’s efforts went in vain ultimately, she said: “I’d like to answer that in the words of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. He had once said, ‘I came here to plant a seed and I succeeded in doing that’.”
As far as McLuhan is concerned, she is happy she has been able to “water that seed”, and she hopes the youth continues to nurture the plant and spread the message of non-violence globally.