Collectorate demolition severs Patna's link with 'Gandhi', Mahatma's followers & film buffs lament heritage loss

NewsDrum Desk
30 Jan 2023

Patna/New Delhi, Jan 30 (PTI) The demolition of the centuries-old Patna Collectorate has severed the "envious link" the Bihar capital had with the Oscar-winning classic "Gandhi", which featured iconic buildings of the historic landmark in the biopic on the Mahatma.


Released in 1982, the film immortalised Mohandas K Gandhi or 'Bapu', as he would be fondly called and recalled by generations, and the heritage buildings of the Patna Collectorate. The building served as a filming site for the Bihar scenes over 40 years ago, setting the capital city abuzz with excitement.

The old Collectorate, however, will now exist only in the realm of cinema as its Dutch-era buildings and British-period structures have been consigned to history, rued many Gandhians on Monday, which marked the 75th death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Father of the Nation was shot dead by Nathuram Godse on this day in 1948 at Delhi's Birla House, which now houses a national memorial to Gandhi. His death anniversary is observed as Martyrs' Day.


"Gandhi", the multiple Academy Award-winning film, begins with the assassination scene that was filmed at Birla House.

Actor Ben Kingsley, who essayed the role of the Mahatma with elan, and many other top actors had travelled with director Richard Attenborough and his crew to Patna in 1981 to film the Bihar scenes.

In the film, the Dutch-era Record Room of the Collectorate was dressed up as Motihari Jail, while the British-period District Magistrate's Building, locally called the DM Office Building, was used to depict the famous courtroom scene, a moment that turned Gandhi into the Mahatma.


While the DM Office Building was torn down last June, the old Record Room Building, which had a magnificent colonnaded frontage, was demolished at the end of December. A few pillars of the building have, however, been salvaged for posterity.

The razing of the old buildings began on May 14 as part of a redevelopment project and construction is going on in full swing to build a new, high-rise collectorate complex on the 12-acre campus.

"The film itself is a heritage and it features, among other places of India, the famous and historic Patna Collectorate. But it has been brought down in the name of development.


"The Collectorate will now only exist on screen but it should have been preserved and celebrated as a priceless heritage, more so for its link with Gandhi's legacy," lamented Gandhi Peace Mission Chairman N Radhakrishnan.

The veteran Gandhian said, "We are not against development but this kind of development that consumes its heritage is regrettable and condemnable".

"The Collectorate deserved to be a world-famous heritage site and a major tourist attraction linked with Gandhi but it was consigned to history," rued Radhakrishnan.


New structures have been built or projects are being executed in the name of Gandhi in Patna while "old heritage is being razed, as there is little concern for it", he alleged.

The Bihar government has built a capacious hall called 'Bapu Sabhagar' next to the Gandhi Sanghralaya facing Gandhi Maidan, and a 'Bapu Watch Tower' is currently under construction, which it says, would purvey the legacy of the Mahatma.

Another Gandhian, on the condition of anonymity, said, he was pained to know that the "historic Collectorate was erased forever".


"Patna's envious link with the classic 'Gandhi' has been severed with the demolition of the Collectorate. Today, Gandhi is being worshipped as a 'vyakti' (personality) but his 'vichar' (values) are not being celebrated, and that is why people in the government did not think of it as worthy of preservation. It is sad," he lamented.

Octogenarian and Patna-based Gandhian Razi Ahmad, who has served as secretary of the Gandhi Sanghralaya, had in October 2021 recalled the "Attenborough days of Patna" upon completion of 40 years of the film's shooting.

"He (Attenborough) was a man of great detail and he wanted every scene to capture the essence of life and times of Gandhiji as it must have been back then. After arriving in Patna, he went around the city and Danapur, scouting for old buildings and locations that would help depict the era on screen as faithfully as possible," Ahmad had told PTI.


And therefore, after much consideration, "Attenborough sahab chose Patna Collectorate for recreation of the important Motihari scenes as he saw in its buildings a component he was looking for as part of his cinematic vocabulary," he recalled.

Historians, scholars, conservation architects, Gandhians and many others had been appealing to the government to preserve the landmark since the demolition was proposed in 2016.

Ahmad, who at times had ringside view of the filming, on Gandhi Jayanti in 2021, had also recalled the "artificial rain" that was created outside the DM Office Building when Kingsley's 'Gandhiji' emerges from the courtroom and into the corridor, acknowledging the crowd on the ground as it chanted "Gandhiji, Gandhiji" in unison.

The Patna-based Gandhian had lamented then that instead of celebrating the historic landmark as a heritage, more so its connect with the immortal classic 'Gandhi', the Bihar government chose to dismantle it in the name of development.

Many film aficionados also said the Collectorate's demolition was a "colossal architectural loss" and it "severed Patna's glorious link with the timeless classic on Gandhi".

Patna-based film critic and author Prashant Ranjan said, "Bihar could have preserved and presented it as a major cultural attraction, but it chose demolition." "The Patna Collectorate was a priceless heritage and for film lovers like us, the connection with 'Gandhi' made it an even more revered place for us. The buildings, in a way, also manifested the values Gandhi stood for thanks to the film and the stories of generations who visited the collectorate. It was absolutely wrong to bring them down," he said.

Ranjan said he had visited the International Film Festival of India in Goa last November and the Bihar government had put up a pavilion there.

"Ironically, one poster carried an image of the Patna Collectorate that mentioned Attenborough's Oscar-winning 'Gandhi' was filmed at the centuries-old Patna Collectorate and carried an old photo of the British-era DM Office Building. Except this particular building was demolished last June and the Dutch-era Record Room building had largely been dismantled in May itself. If it's so valuable, why was it not preserved?," he asked. PTI KND SZM