EXCLUSIVE: Mahatma Gandhi’s life is to be detailed in a multi-season streaming period drama series akin to Netflix global smash The Crown, Deadline can reveal.
Sameer Nair’s local production powerhouse Applause Entertainment has acquired rights to Indian historian and journalist Ramachandra Guha’s Gandhi Before India and Gandhi – The Years that Changed the World — a pair of biographies that are among the most complete ever written about the iconic man.
The series will move from from Gandhi’s earliest days to his actions as a lawyer in South Africa to the independence struggle in India, telling the lesser known stories of his life that played an important role in shaping him into a Mahatma (a revered person in South East Asia). It will also tell the stories of all his compatriots and contemporaries of the freedom movement, who played integral parts in shaping what became free and modern India.
Casting is well underway and Applause has named Pratik Gandhi — the surname is coincidental — as Gandhi, who rose from a campaigning lawyer to lead India to independence from the British Empire before his tragic assassination in 1947.
“Pratik is a wonderful actor, who has been on the Gujarati stage for the past 20 years but was a breakout in one of our series as a disgraced stock broker [Scam 1992],” said Nair. “He’s recently been doing a monologue; a one-man play in three languages about the younger years of Gandhi, so he’s already steeped in the material and has read Ram’s books. We’ll be building our universe around him.”
Nair — the former Star, NDTV and Balaji Telefilms CEO whose company Applause is behind the Indian remake of The Office and several other high profile Indian series and films — has put a writer’s room in place to develop the scripts and expects to shoot in Gujarati, Hindi and English to ensure “authenticity.”
He is currently speaking with potential production partners and scouting locations across India, South Africa and the UK — countries in which Gandhi lived and that are covered by the books. Shooting is expected to begin in summer 2023.
Guha, one of India’s leading modern history authorities, told Deadline that the scope of his tomes — which focus on Gandhi’s life as a lawyer and civil rights activist in South Africa between 1893 and 1914 and his subsequent, history-defining return to India — lend themselves perfectly to a deep, rich, multi-part series.
They include more than 150 characters of “all faiths, cultures and classes” who have personal interactions with Gandhi, “adversarial, collegial, reverential and familial,” meaning that a film format could not do the scope justice.
“A two-hour format has its attractions but a certain superficiality comes in,” said Guha. “Look at The Crown, it’s about the whole of 20th Century British history. We can take the story of Gandhi — his achievements, controversies, struggles and friendships — to a new audience, in a complementary but very different way to a book.”
Guha said that while there had been some strong previous on-screen depictions of Gandhi, such as in Richard Attenborough’s 1982 Oscar-winner Gandhi, a series akin to The Crown will allow viewers to go deeper into the character’s motivations. He pointed to how Gandhi’s relationships with his great political rivals, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Veer Savarkar, had been largely ignored on screen.
“Attenborough’s film was good for its time and got Gandhi back into circulation. It’s got a very neat narrative,” he said. “But Jinnah, who founded Pakistan, was a stock character in the film and Savarkar’s relationship with him was complicated. There’s lots more you can say about Gandhi in a multi-part series.”
Applause previously had a multi-show deal with Southeast Asian streamer ZEE5 Global but Nair and his team also have created content for Netflix and Amazon and are yet to place the high-profile development with a streaming partner.
“We’re looking this to be part of the global streaming universe,” said Nair. “Gandhi is a global figure and this is very important. It’s human history. Our sense is this is a big deal — it’s an Indian story with global ramifications.
“We’re deep in the writing, we’ll continue to review the casting over the next six months, as it’s a large cast to put together, and we’ll look to film next summer,” he said. “The way we work at Applause is we put it all together and make a lot of progress first. We’ve had some early conversations with streamers but it will pick up in more strength later in the year. It’s all systems go now.”