Gandhi may become a cult film
From Madhu Jain
New Delhi, Nov. 30: Moradabad, Meerut, Baroda. three recent bloody blots on India’s secular landscape. Sir Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, which had its world premiere at Vigyan Bhavan this evening, hardly left a dry eye when it was screened for the press earlier in the day.
The film had “moved.” But it sent a shock of recognition and of horror down one’s spine: India was back where it started. The Gandhi who fasted almost right up to death’s door in that crumbling terrace of the house on Beliaghata Raod when Calcutta burned with communal hatred, Was even more relevant today.
Gandhi’s name is in evidence everywhere. But the spirit is missing, and so are the men. Gandhi, the man, with his idiosyncracies, foibles, strength and stubborness, lies buried under the deified image one pays lip service to—the textbook Gandhi.
But Ben Kingsley, a possible contender for an Oscar for his performance in this film brings the man back to life. That twinkle in his eye, those seemingly child like remarks which, like a Trojan horse, carry heavy perceptions into the complexities of Man, the impish quality which Sarojini Naidu attributes to him: like a “Mickey Mouse,” she once said, “the naked fakir” who set in motion those rumblings under the British empire— which haven’t ceased yet.
Kingsley, who is half Gujarati (his father grew up in Africa before moving to London), also manages to bring to surface in his performance which covers both the span of 56 years as well as a range of emotions, the gnawing moments of doubt and of agony. Gandhi’s reaction to the riots at Chauri Chaura, when 21 policemen were beaten to death with sticks by pro-Gandhi supporters, the scene. when he stands before the huge well from which ripple the blood stains of those who jumped into it during the Jalianwallah Bagh massacre. Moments like these are underplayed, but the silences speak volumes.
One could go on about Kingsley, the film is his, but others have been superb cameos. They could only be so next to Gandhi, although Rohini Hattangady as Kasturba Gandhi stands out in a powerful performance which covers almost the same span of time. The scenes between the two are sensitively portrayed.
There is the angry young Gandhi in the commune in Pretoria who orders his wife out when she refuses to clean the toilet, the old and wise Gandhi in prison in Pune who doesn't want to show his tears as his wife lies dying of a heart attack, and the Gandhi of the playful moments with his wife.
Roshan Seth as Nehru seems to literally grow into a role. He even begins to look like Pandit Nehru in the latter half of the film, the aristocratic, rather delicate-looking athlete acquiring political agility. Alyque Padamsee as an aloof and determined Jinnah gives an outstanding performance his portrayal as a dandy upper-class lawyer whose India does not go beyond the cities might not be appreciated so much on the other side of the border.
But the message of the film, not that the film is only a message is if Gandhi’s life is to be a message, it is not limited to India alone. It speaks of tolerance in a world in which it is increasingly in short supply. In the 80’s with the anti-nuclear movements throughout western Europe and the United States, this might even become some sort of cult film, especially in the US.
The world premiere in New Delhi, for which Sir Richard Attenborough, Ben Kingsley, Rohini Hattangady, Saeed Jaffery and Alyque Padamsee flew in, will be followed by premiere in London two days later, and then in Washington and New York. The Hindi Version has already been dubbed, using many of the original voices.