Daily Recco, January 29: Remembering Mahatma through Richard Attenborough's Gandhi
The classic epic cinebiography of the Father of the Nation bears the message of Gandhi by showing his life without coming across as didactic.
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On January 30, 1948, a large group of people is seen walking towards a gathering. One man is shown walking purposefully towards an ageing, bald and bespectacled Gandhi, who is on his way to the evening prayer service aided by his followers. The purposeful visitor (later shown to be Nathuram Godse), shoots him point-blank in the chest. The frail Gandhi exclaims, "Oh God!" and then falls dead.
Thus opens Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982), the titular character essayed by Sir Ben Kingsley. The next scene shifts to Gandhi’s funeral, attended by millions. A radio reporter who is giving a live account waxes eloquently about Gandhi's world-changing life. The film then moves to a flashback to show how a simple lawyer from Gujarat became the symbol of peace worldwide.
This epic classic cinebiography has been an integral part of growing up years in India of those born in the late 1980s and 1990s. So much so, that was screened regularly in schools (those were the days of the VCR) and has featured in general knowledge quizzes.
The titular card at the opening of the film reads, “No man's life can be encompassed in one telling. There is no way to give each year its allotted weight, to include each event, each person who helped to shape a lifetime. What can be done is to be faithful in spirit to the record and try to find one's way to the heart of the man…” No truer word could be spoken of the film. For us, Gandhi is how Richard Attenborough showed us. And even Gandhi (had he been alive) would have agreed that for our generation, Ben Kingsley was the face and embodiment of Gandhi than Gandhi himself.
Much has been written about Gandhi’s life and the plot of this all-time classic. It shows his life from his days in South Africa (1893) all the way to his death. No one but Attenborough (after 18 years of research on Gandhi) could have created such a real account (based on what one has subsequently read in history books) of the man’s life, times and message. And none but Kingsley could have portrayed it so realistically, without deifying the titular character. The film has a star-studded cast of those times, from Rohini Hattangadi (as Kasturba Gandhi), Roshan Seth (as Jawaharlal Nehru), Saeed Jaffrey (as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel) and Virendra Razdan (as Maulana Azad). Godse is essayed by Harsh Nayyar. The music is by sitar virtuoso Pandit Ravi Shankar.
As we observe the 72nd death anniversary of the Father of the Nation, watch Gandhi on Prime Videos to relearn the message of the Mahatma (especially needed in today’s times) through the cinematic excellence of Richard Attenborough and Ben Kingsley.