I quote what the then, U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall (1947-1949) said of him, “Mahatma Gandhi has become the spokesman for the conscience of all mankind. He was a man who made humility and simple truth more powerful than Empires.” Albert Einstein said, “It will be difficult for the next generation to believe that a man in flesh and blood, like Gandhi, ever walked on this Earth”.
On the 64th year since Indian Independence, I watched for the fourth time, the Richard Attenborough’s 1982 biography picture of Mahatma Gandhi – over three hours in length, filled with stunning location photography of the Indian landscape, a superb cast and crowd scenes that use hundreds of thousands of extras – this film got eight Academy awards including Best Actor (Ben Kingsley as Gandhi) and Best Director (Richard Attenborough).
My visit to Sabarmati Ashram in the year 2004, is still vivid in my mind. It is difficult to believe that Gandhi had the ‘Power’ to sway the emotions of millions by self-control. To understand him better, I would recommend reading of his autobiography – The Story of my experiments with the truth.
The movie covers Gandhi’s life from his arrival to South Africa, as a London-educated barrister, in the year 1893 (age 24 years) to his assassination in the year 1948 in Delhi, India.
Gandhi is thrown off a South African train for being an Indian and traveling in a first class compartment. Gandhi realizes that the laws are biased against Indians and decides to start a non-violent protest campaign for the rights of all Indians in South Africa. After numerous arrests and the attention of the world, the government finally relents by recognizing rights for Indians, though not for the native blacks of South Africa.
After this victory, Gandhi is invited back to India, where he is now considered something of a national hero. He is urged to take up the fight for India’s independence from the British Empire. Gandhi agrees, and mounts a non-violent non-cooperation campaign of unprecedented scale, coordinating millions of Indians nationwide. There are some setbacks, such as violence against the protesters and Gandhi’s occasional imprisonment. Nevertheless, the campaign generates great attention, and Britain faces intense public pressure.
Too weak from World War II to continue enforcing its will in India, Britain finally grants India’s independence. Indians celebrate this victory, but their troubles are far from over. Religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims erupt into nation-wide violence. Gandhi declares a hunger strike, saying he will not eat until the fighting stops.
The fighting does stop eventually, but the country is divided. It is decided that the northwest area of India, and eastern part of India (current day Bangladesh), both places where Muslims are in the majority, will become a new country called Pakistan (West and East Pakistan respectively). It is hoped that by encouraging the Muslims to live in a separate country, violence will abate. Gandhi is opposed to the idea, and is even willing to allow Muhammad Ali Jinnah to become the first prime minister of India, but the Partition of India is carried out nevertheless.
Gandhi spends his last days trying to bring about peace between both nations. He thereby angers many dissidents on both sides, one of whom, a fanatic Hindu, finally gets close enough to assassinate him in a scene at the end of the film that mirrors the opening scene of the movie.
The Star cast and direction of the movie is superb. The Hindi version is much more moving when compared to the English make. Roshan Sheth as Nehru and Saeed Mirza as Sardar Patel have done wonderful performance. Alyque Padamsee is very much Jinnah like – aristocratic and headstrong. Rohini Hattangadi as Kasturba portrays a very supportive wife of Gandhi. Martin Sheen’s performance as Press Reporter Walker is impressive.