Rated PG. Our content rating: Violence 3; Language 0; Sex/Nudity 1.
Length: 3 hours 11 min.
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile
But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.
Richard Attenborough’s fine film biography of the great Indian liberation leader is now out on DVD, with some wonderful features to enhance your understanding of the historical context of the man and the film. For me the most intriguing are the newsreel clips showing the real Gandhi as he visits England to represent his National Congress Party at the Roundtable negotiations in London. It’s obvious that the bemused narrator has little understanding of the subject of his brief report, especially in regard to the leader’s refusal to exchange his simple clothing for the formal attire favored by diplomats. Gandhi refuses to speak to the cameras, but in a couple of subsequent reports we do hear him addressing the crowds.
Our appreciation for actor Ben Kingsley’s portrayal increases as we watch and hear the diminutive man. Mr. Kingsley’s commentary on his role is another highlight, interspersed as it is with scenes and stills from the film. The Making of Gandhi also includes many scenes, along with commentaries from all the principles involved in the almost twenty-year process of bringing the film to the screen. A feature I am looking forward to trying when I get my new DVD-equipped computer up and running is the DVD “Weblink to Official Gandhi Website.”
The DVD allows us to see the film in its widescreen format, which, when shown via a video projector can be very spectacular. This is a film that uses thousands of extras for its crowd scenes, such as the Mahatma’s arrival at a train station, his defiantly making salt at the seashore following his Salt March to the Sea, and of course, the Mother of all Crowd Scenes, the spectacular funeral procession with an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 participants. (The numbers depend on who was counting, the latter number given by the police controlling the huge crowd.)
Contrasting greatly to these spectacles are the many intimate scenes showing Gandhi’s interaction with individuals, from Anglican clergyman Charlie Andrews to the grieving Hindu who had participated in a massacre of Muslims. The more than three hour-long film has plenty of scenes for peacemakers to use in exploring Gandhi’s concept of non-violence (he called it “satyagraha,” soul or truth-force). His bravely taking a beating from a South African policeman while burning his pass; the marchers falling to the ground when set upon by mounted troops; the incredible discipline of his followers when they march on the salt works at Dharsana and accept without flinching the blows of the police; and Gandhi’s reminding the reluctant Charlie Andrews that Christ’s words about turning the other cheek are not metaphorical–all offer opportunities for reflection and discussion. (And if you want some brief capsule summaries of Gandhi’s teachings, the DVD offers the “Words of Gandhi” feature.)
Great preaching/discussion scene: In South Africa an angry crowd of Indians have gathered in a large theater to protest the odious pass laws of the racist government. Gandhi says,
“Let us begin by being clear about General Smuts’ new law. All Indians must now be fingerprinted… like criminals. Men and women. No marriage other than a Christian marriage is considered valid. Under this act our wives and mothers are whores. And every man here is a bastard.”
Sitting behind Gandhi on stage, his friend Kahn, recognizing that Gandhi had been very stiff at first in his speeches,
“Let us begin by being clear about General Smuts’ new law. All Indians must now be fingerprinted… like criminals. Men and women. No marriage other than a Christian marriage is considered valid. Under this act our wives and mothers are whores. And every man here is a bastard.’
On stage, Kahn, recognizing that Gandhi had been very stiff at first in his speeches, observes, “He has become quite good at this.” Gandhi continues, “And a policeman passing an Indian dwelling, I will not call them homes, may enter and demand the card of any Indian woman whose dwelling it is. “ Men from the audience utter curses. “Understand, he does not have to stand at the door. He may enter.” A man in the audience rises and says, “I will not allow it! I swear to Allah! I’ll kill the man who offers that insult to my home and my wife. And let them hang me!” The camera now includes the government officials in its view as the audience applauds enthusiastically. Others rise, including a man who yells, “I say talk means nothing! Kill a few officials before they disgrace one Indian woman.” The white observers look very uncomfortable. “Then they might think twice about such laws.” Near him another man rises and declares, “In that cause I would be willing to die!” More applause, sweeping throughout all three tiers of the audience.
Gandhi responds, “I praise such courage. I need such courage, because in this cause I am prepared to die. But, my friend, there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill. Whatever they do to us we will attack no one, kill no one. But we will not give our fingerprints, not one of us. They will imprison us. They will fine us. They will seize our possessions. But they cannot take away our self respect if we do not give it to them.” Someone in the balcony cries out, “Have you been to prison? They beat us and torture us. I say—“ Gandhi interjects, “I am asking you to fight. To fight against their anger, not to provoke it. We will not strike a blow. But we will receive them. And through our pain we will make them see their injustice. And it will hurt as all fighting hurts. But we cannot lose. We cannot. They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me. Then they will have my dead body, not my obedience.” The audience, won over, breaks into cheers and applause.
Gandhi could have obtained political power had we wanted to, but this never was his objective. Like an Old Testament prophet, Gandhi’s evolving attire was a visual statement that he came to serve, not to be served, as we see in a sequence of scenes. At first he dresses in the formal wear of an English lawyer, as befitting a man fresh out of a London law school who intended to rise through the legal ranks. But after becoming leader of the anti-pass campaign in South Africa, he adopted the Indian attire of a turban, white coat and trousers. Back in India itself he eventually, in order to identify with the poorest of the poor, wore a dhoti, the only garment millions of beggars and outcasts owned, just large enough to cover their private parts. He did wear a long cloth like a cloak at times as in the scene at Mohamed Ali Jinnah’s house in which he is meeting with Hindu and Muslim leaders, and a servant brings in a tray of tea and refreshments. Gandhi immediately takes the tray and serves the others himself, he who had more followers who adored him than all the others put together. What a contrast between the imperious Jinnah and the simple Gandi!
VP, early in its history, included a study/discussion guide for the film, an improved version of which is in my book FILMS & FAITH, available from VP’s publisher Robin Kash. (Update: this book is now available for $10+ $2 postage from Visual Parables, 63 Boone Lake Circle, Walton, KY 41094)