GEK1048 – Midterm Assignment
Richard Attenborough’s Hollywood production of the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi has undoubtedly received mixed responses from various audiences; with criticisms ranging from aspects of its cinematography to the extent of which it adheres closely to the historical truth. This paper will focus on the latter. Attenborough, being an inspired fan of the Mahatma, I believe, had every intention of portraying him in the most exemplary manner possible; depicting his selfless personality and divinely-inspired ideologies, a saint of our times. However, this does not necessarily run parallel to factual authenticity.
What is effective and most clearly depicted in Gandhi is the political career of the Mahatma; from his days in South Africa as a young barrister to the iconic advocate of freedom and equality he emerges as in his homeland, India. The movie had rather distinctively focused on this aspect of Gandhi’s life and did an excellent job illustrating it. It depicted, with proper emphasis, the various meetings, congregations and political incidents which showcased the foundations upon which Gandhi formed his methods, though only in an elementary sense. For example, the episode where Gandhi was so violently thrown off the train at Pietermaritzburg due to his reluctance to move to a third-class cabin and remain in first-class as was due him very evidently revealed Gandhi’s sentiments on being racially discriminated against; the first of a series of non-violent retaliations screened throughout the movie.
Though the portrayal of the origins and development of Gandhi’s ideologies was impressive, the biggest flaw in Attenborough’s film was, ironically, the misportrayal of certain historical personalities, most evidently in the character of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Dressed up in the role of the “villain”, he is shown to possess sinister notions. Slit-eyed, pock-marked, monocle and English-sounding, Jinnah obstinately opposes Gandhi’s gentle ways, his path to Truth and Virtue and instead, is communalistic and divisive due to his intent on splitting India religiously into two countries. 1 This motiveless antagonism was clearly highlighted when Jinnah was sitting around with Congress party leadership in Gandhi’s ashram after the 1931 Round Table Conference, commenting bitterly, “After all your travels, after all your efforts, they sent you back empty-handed.” This seems to be a rather strange remark to be made as everyone who attended said conference had come back empty-handed.
Another personality unfortunately misportrayed is Jawaharlal Nehru. In the film, Gandhi is seen to be the setting policy unto which other Indian leaders followed. Nehru, however, was never one to be so submissive. He was known to be stubborn man and had visions of his own different from the Mahatma. He may have agreed with him for tactical reasons he realized was beneficial to his own political ascent yet none of this traits was portrayed in the film. Instead, Nehru is depicted as a flavourless yes-man to a tasteful Gandhi.2 His character likened to that of a Gandhian fan.
There were also cases of extreme dramatization in scenarios depicting a significant legislative moment in Gandhi’s life. The “overdramatization” had, for Attenborough, the capability he wanted to evoke the different emotions he desired in his audience in order to build an intended mindset towards the film and of Gandhi as a whole. A percentage of this is certainly allowable as cinematic license but the extent to which is distorts the truth is questionable. In the film, there was a charge of mounted policemen on the peaceful strike by the Indian coal miners in South Africa which was halted by the horses themselves who backed away from the strikers lying on the ground rather than trample on them. This was not the case entirely. In actual fact, Gandhi himself had written in his book Satyagraha in South Africa that the “military policemen chased the strikers and...
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