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Elephants Do Remember review: 93-year-old freedom fighter Rama Khandwala has lost none of her spark

Release Date: 31 Mar 2020 / 38min

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Sonal Pandya

The 38 minute documentary catalogues the now sedate life of Khandwala, among the last living members of the Rani of Jhansi regiment of Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army.

Rama Khandwala, now in her nineties, remembers her days in Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA), also known as the Azad Hind Fauj, like it was yesterday. The documentary by Swati Pandey and co-directors Viplove Rai Bhatia and Manohar Singh Bisht of Films Division takes us down memory lane as it takes us through the remarkable life of the 93-year-old freedom fighter.

The nonagenarian now lives a quiet life in south Mumbai where she goes out to shop for vegetables with a walking cane and converses with her neighbours like any other senior citizen. Unlike her peers, Khandwala (née Mehta), born on 3 December 1926 in Rangoon, Burma, was once a platoon commander in the INA. Her grandfather was close friends with Mahatma Gandhi and instrumental in bringing him back to India from South Africa and building his ashram.

Khandwala's mother was part of the Indian Independence League and she and her sister both signed up to fight for India’s freedom in the newly created Rani of Jhansi regiment led by the legendary Capt Lakshmi. Once, after she got injured, Khandwala got to meet her idol and hero, Netaji, while she was convalescing. Decades later, she still remembers him fondly and is moved to tears when she sees archival footage of Bose.

Khandwala uses Netaji as her inspiration in life even now. Quoting the famous slogan, ‘aage badho [move ahead]’, she tries to lead an active lifestyle even now. “I get younger day by day,” she smiles and tells the camera as it captures her getting ready.

The 38 minute documentary also catalogues the various hardships of Khandwala's life. After the defeat of the INA, she spent six months under house arrest with her mother and sister. She remembers the untold torture of INA soldiers who were regarded as traitors by the British.

After marriage, she relocated to Mumbai and tried for a child for nearly a decade. Eventually, they were blessed with a daughter who now lives in the US. Her husband later died of a heart attack.

Rama Khandwala with the filmmakers at the Films Division complex
Photo: Press Information Bureau of India

Knowing Japanese since a young age, Khandwala became a guide with the ministry of tourism in 1968 and even today frequents famous landmarks like the Gateway of India to speak with photographers at the site.

Her sense of humour intact, Rama Khandwala has lost none of her spark for life. The only criticism of the documentary is that while Khandwala is a natural, certain portions of the film feel staged. With Khandwala’s fast wit and charm, it didn’t feel necessary.

Otherwise, with her sunny outlook on life and sharp mind, Khandwala is a fascinating subject for a documentary such as this. Soon, an entire generation who knew, saw and participated in the struggle for freedom and was acquainted with leaders like Subhas Chandra Bose will pass into the ages. Elephants Do Remember is one attempt to preserve some of their memories.

Elephants Do Remember was screened in the National Competition section at the 16th Mumbai International Film Festival on 31 January.

Related topics

Mumbai International Film Festival

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