Chicago Radio to Ketan Mehta, ties that bind Sara Ali Khan’s ‘Ae Watan…’ character

March 18, 2024
Sara Ali Khan will be seen shortly in the upcoming Amazon Prime Video presentation, 'Ae Watan Mere Watan', which is based on the life of the young Gandhian, Usha Mehta, and her Congress Radio, which became the voice of the 1942 Quit India Movement.

Sara Ali Khan will be seen shortly in the upcoming Amazon Prime Video presentation, ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan’, which is based on the life of the young Gandhian, Usha Mehta, and her Congress Radio, which became the voice of the 1942 Quit India Movement.

Mehta was an ordinary young woman with extraordinary resilience, but she may never have been known, had her voice not benefited from the amplification provided by equipment supplied by Nanik Motwane.

He was the Bombay industrialist who ensured, literally, that Mahatma Gandhi got heard by the masses by providing the Congress with mics for its sessions and rallies. In fact, Motwane’s Chicago Radio branding appears on mics in all pictures of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and other Congress leaders photographed during some of the iconic moments of the freedom struggle.

Motwane, who was moved by the sight of the Mahatma going from one group of people to another at the 1929 Congress session just to be heard, started providing Chicago Radio mics pro bono for every session of the party from 1931 (the historic Karachi session) to the 1960s.

When Jawaharlal Nehru delivered his historic ‘Tryst With Destiny’ speech, his mic also bore the Chicago Radio label. So did the mic that Lata Mangeshkar used when she sang ‘Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon’ live to an audience that included Pandit Nehru, who teared up listening to her soulful rendition.

The Bombay police arrested Motwane on the suspicion that he was providing Usha Mehta the amplification equipment she needed for her radio broadcasts to be heard. But somehow they could not connect the dots and hold Chicago Radio responsible for abetting Mehta’s ‘seditious’ act.

So, Motwane got away with some months of imprisonment, but by associating with him, Mehta, who went on to become a Mumbai University professor and doubled as head of the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi and Gandhi Peace Foundation, got linked to the family history of Bollywood director Vikramaditya Motwane, who was most recently in the news for the streaming series ‘Jubilee’.

That was, however, not Usha Mehta’s only connection with Hindi cinema. She never married, but she was close to her three nephews, one of whom is the acclaimed filmmaker Ketan Mehta, who has been in the news since 1980, when his debut Gujarati film, ‘Bhavni Bhavai’, won a clutch of national and international awards.

Mehta, who has also worked with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) as a producer, went on to make prize-winning films such as ‘Maya Memsahib’, ‘Rang Rasiya’ and ‘Manjhi – The Mountain Man’.

Coming back to the Motwanes, Vikramaditya is the great-grandson of Manik and grandson of Harnam Motwane, whose 1951 film ‘Andolan’, with Kishore Kumar in the lead role, is like a potted history of the Congress as seen through the lives of its protagonists.

Vikramaditya’s production house is named Andolan Films as a tribute to his grandfather’s forgotten film. His own oeuvre includes the superhit streaming series ‘Sacred Games’ and ‘AK vs AK’, a dark comedy with Anil Kapoor and Anurag Kashyap, which he helmed for Netflix, as well as theatrical films such as the multiple prize-winning ‘Udaan’ (2010), ‘Lootera’ (2013), ‘Trapped’ (2017) and ‘Bhavesh Joshi Superhero’ (2018).

Another connection. It was Nanik Motwane who in 1960 founded the factory making electronic measuring equipment in Nashik that Vikramaditya’s father now runs.

Vikramaditya’s mother Deepa worked as a line producer for Shukla Das, who was once a prolific maker of documentary films. And Sanjay Leela Bhansali used to assist Das.

So, Deepa knew SLB from his younger days and he gave Vikramaditya his first break — an opportunity to assist him on ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’. For Vikramaditya, it was, as he puts it, his film school. He learnt the ropes of filmmaking from one of the best in the business.

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