As an Indian, we take pride in calling Gandhi as our own. Indeed, he is our own. He was born here and fought for us and won us the independence. He belongs to us. But despite having such belongingness to the great man, we were not the first ones to make a film on Bapu. Ironically, Sir Richard Attenborough, a British filmmaker, made Gandhi his own. The biopic on the father of nation is called Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi – a film which not only won accolades and awards around the world but introduced Mahatma Gandhi and his principles to the world at large.
It is not a shame that a British made this film. Cinema, really, is not bound by any boundary. The fact that Sir Richard made such hardships to make this film a reality only gives him all the credit. Gandhi took 20 years of Attenborough’s life. From the time he met Motilal Kothari, an Indian who wanted someone to make a film on Bapu till the release of the film, Attenborough lived Gandhi.
The Gandhi that we see in the film is actually Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. It is his version of the Mahatma Gandhi. He, intentionally, did not include the troublesome and controversial part of Gandhi’s life.
In the initial years, nobody in the film industry was accepting the idea of making a film on a man who covered himself with a sheet. For continues 18 years, the script of the film was peddled from one producer to the other with no success. Meanwhile, Attenborough read as much as on Mahatma Gandhi to refine the script. It was only in the year 1980 that the film went on floors. Indeed, it is a Richard Attenborough film, for he fought with the obstacles in bringing our Bapu’s life on the 70 mm screen.
I believe that best thing that happened with Richard is that he got Ben Kingsley to play the role of Gandhi. I am still in search of a biopic where an actor has involved himself or herself so much in the person he or she is playing that he/she actually becomes that person. Watching Ben Kingsley in the film is like watching Gandhi himself. He made the great man come alive on screen.
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Many Indian actors who had given the audition for the lead role in the film do not regret about having not played the lead role. Naseeruddin Shah, who had gone to London to give the audition, came to know that Ben Kingsley was already selected to play the role and the auditions were just held to calm things down back in India. If the people knew that a white man was playing the role of Gandhi, it could have caused anger among the Indians. But Naseersaab tells that the day he saw Ben Kingsley, he knew only Ben could pull it off.
Why Gandhi is special is because it touches every aspect of his life. His transformation from a semi-British who was proud of being called a high ranked barrister in South Africa to a man who quit all the desires and worked for the independence of his country. Gandhi, the film, is just about these years of his transformation. The film shows that with each passing year and with each movement, he discovered a new man in him. It is difficult to understand how the filmmaker managed to fit in this journey in a 3-hour long film. But he did and he did it with such perfection that the film grips you in each and every scene.
As a film, Gandhi has helped those who had the interest in the man to understand him. I believe cinema comes as an easy literature to us. Gandhi, the film is that sort of a literature where you try and figure out who Mahatma Gandhi was. In the times when the teachings and principles of Gandhi are slowly diminishing, the presence of the biopic becomes more so significant.
Only one thing that we find missing in the film is how the film intentionally tries to hide certain portions of truth. The first scene of the film where Nathu Ram Godse walks up to Gandhi and finally shoots him appears incomplete. The film doesn’t speak of who Godse was and why he killed Gandhi? I believe Richard Attenborough did not want to include that part at all as he did not want any sort of controversy revolving around the film. Many of the important film writers had pointed towards the ignorance of the identification of Godse.
Working on Gandhi’s principles in the present time isn’t that easy. It was not easy even back then. The perseverance of the man who believed in non-violence and patience as the key to defeat the British seems inapplicable today. Many, today, opine that Gandhi and his ideologies are dead now. It is tough to be him. But the fact is that Gandhi can never die in this country. He gave us a country where his teachings might not be appreciated much by the youth today but in the undercurrent, we all are following his ways. Be it the Anna Hazare movement or the on-going FTII protest or the many long-fought battles that various parts of our country had seen, all of them had and have shades of Gandhian touch.
The significance of this film is felt in this light even more. We could go on and argue about the path Gandhi took to gain independence for the country. But Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi told us it was not only the independence he cared for. The partition and the aftermath of partition is what feared him. He was not ready to see the countrymen killing each other in the name of religion.
Gandhi begins with the scene of his assassination and ends with it also. The question is why did Attenborough choose to show it twice? Maybe because, when you see the assassination in the first scene, you obviously sympathise with Gandhi. You feel emotional about him but later on in the last scene when you again see the assassination, you on one hand sympathize with Gandhi but on the other hand, you are happy that he died. Because what he was going to see could have killed him many more times and with much more brutality.