Sir Richard Attenborough passed away on 24.08.2014. The artist who is best known for his Oscar winning directorial venture – Gandhi (1982) is no more. An actor turned director, Richard Attenborough touched the sky of excellence in his making of Gandhi. This was the first English movie seen by me. While paying my tribute to the great filmmaker, I am reviewing that only.Gandhi starts from 24 years old Mohandaas Karamchand Gandhi’s journey to South Africa in 1893 with a law degree in his possession. And then starts his quest for truth while sticking to his path of non-violence, together forming his great mantra of Satyagrah. After fighting against racial discrimination for 21 long years on the foreign land, he came back to his motherland to follow the same philosophy and strategy of his against the colonial rule in his own nation. After roaming about the nation on the advice of Goalkrishna Gokhle, he started his struggle from Champaran in 1917 and went ahead with the masses taking that beginning to the point of Quit India Movement in 1942 after which end of the colonial rule in India was just a matter of time. But the problem of mutual distrust and hatred between the communities was even bigger than the colonial rule which divided this great nation and swallowed lakhs of innocent lives including the one which was of Gandhi himself.
Richard Attenborough has done complete justice to the subject of his work and recreated history on the screen with near perfection. This sincere filmmaker devoted two decades in making of this epic movie and the end result proved to be an invaluable asset to the Indian cinema as well as the world cinema. He showed better sense by showing Gandhi’s political journey only in his adulthood and skipped the events pertaining to his childhood. A movie is to be completed within a reasonable time frame and hence it was necessary to leave the initial phase of Gandhi’s life.
Flaws are there in the movie. Sardar Patel (Saeed Zaffrey) does not look the legendary Iron Man of India from any angle. Ditto for certain other characters alongwith ignoring certain significant historical events of that period. But these flaws cannot snatch the characteristic of being a great movie from Gandhi. Attenborough’s in-depth research work and perfect casting of Ben Kingsley and Rohini Hattangadi for the lead roles of Gandhi and Kasturba contributed a lot to make it an unforgettable movie. Ben Kingsley is said to have slept on a small mat for a pretty long period in order to acclimatize him with the immortal character from the history of mankind. And when the movie was shot, he seemed to have created the soul of Gandhi in his earthly body. Lesser known Indian actress Rohini Hattangadi brought Kasturba alive on the screen.
Attenborough extracted brilliant performances from almost all the cast members especially the Indian ones. No Hindi movie lover can forget Supriya Pathak as Manu and Neena Gupta as Abha in this movie. Making a realistic movie on that turbulent period of history while keeping Gandhi at the nucleus was by no means an easy task (and that’s why two decades went into its making), so justice could not be done to certain historical characters. However the great filmmaker avoided trivial things which any formula-obsessed Indian filmmaker would not have been able to avoid viz. the affair of Acharya J.B. Kripalani and Sucheta as well as that of Indira and Feroze.
By default perhaps, certain biases and contradictions in the great man’s personality have been revealed though there’s no bias in the filmmaker’s approach either towards Gandhi or against Gandhi.
The movie is an engaging one right from the word ‘go’ to its conclusion as John Briley has written the screenplay with sheer brilliance. The complete narrative moves forward speedily without a pause. The whole milieu is realistic and we seem to travel through that era getting a vision of India that was in the days of the British rule while watching this movie. All the action sequences render a feeling of realism. Technically, this is a flawless movie. Sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar has prepared optimum music for this extra-ordinary movie.
I have seen both the English and the Hindi versions of this movie (on Doordarshan, of course) and found that anybody interested in history or the life of Gandhi can watch this umpteen number of times. It entertains as well as enlightens.
As asserted in my review of the book ‘My Experiments with Truth‘ also, It pains me when I find people seeking pleasure in cursing Gandhi and enjoying the seemingly indecent talks about him (especially those related to his so-called experimentation in celibacy). You cannot understand Gandhi until you have at least a particle of himself in you. Attenborough had it, that’s why he could understand what kind of a man M.K. Gandhi was. His thoughts were not bound by narrow nationalism, he kept humanity above nationalism and perceived the whole world as a single nation or a family in which every member should be sensitive to another one.
While paying my tribute to Richard Attenborough, I can’t help remembering a dialog from this immortal piece of art of himself. When Gandhi was arrested at a point in the movie, the concerned police officer says to him, ‘I am sorry Mr. Gandhi but you are under arrest’ and Gandhi replies, ‘I am not sorry’. That, I feel, should be our spirit for sticking to our ideals and our chosen path.
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