I just saw the movie Ghandi directed by Richard Attenborough for the second and third time in the last couple nights. It's a beautiful movie. In this I saw the impact of the great Indian filmmaker Satijit Ray on the British director Attenborough in many of the scences, particularly the scenes of Ghandi's domestic life in his ashram. The direction, the actors, the cinematography are all wonderful. The director Attenborough got an Academy Award for directing. This film is epic filmmaking at its finest.
But what really struck me is how Ghandi impacted the home rule movement in India in 1915. Ghandi was a lawyer leading an Indian civil rights movement in South Africa mobilizing thousands in the small South African Indian community. He won a great victory against the racist South African government and gained international newspaper fame. Then he returned to India and he met the leaders of the Congress (home rule) party: Patel, Nehru, Jinnah. Many of these leaders were lawyers, educated men, urbanites, from higher classes, and had money. After returning home to India Ghandi and his family voyaged by train to rediscover India but already he, a lawyer trained in London, has shed the Western clothes he used to wear and other home rule leaders still wear; he is already dressing like a poor Indian peasant.
Then Ghandi gives his first major address to the Congress Party telling them they are Westernized lawyers in cities like New Dehli and have no impact on the millions upon millions of Indian masses. He tells the Congress Party leaders if they ever want to be effective they have to go to the people. That's what he does in the rest of the movie. What's stirring is he lives his words.
First, an incredibly poor villager visits Ghandi and tells him the British landlords ordered the poor villagers to grow indigo to dye clothing but as more of the Indian masses are buying machine-made British cloth, there is no market for the indigo but the landlords still demands their rents from the now starving peasants. Ghandi leads his small group of followers to Champaran and Kheda where he is met by thousands at the train station and promptly gets arrest. His arrest sparks more thousands to come surround the building where he is imprisoned and tried. Nehru sends to Ghandi three young men--urbanized, literate city types--whom Ghandi in one of my favorite scenes asks to document the atrocities of the landlords and the suffering of the peasants. He tells the three bourgeois young men they have to live with the peasants which is fine with them. The documentation they produce is instrumental in convincing the British government to modify the actions of the landlords. Ghandi leads strikes and protests against the landlords mobilizing thoousands and eletrifying the nation. This victory inspired the many poor Indians, and they started calling Ghandi "Mahatma" or "Great one" and "father of the nation."
Ghandi did actually as he suggested in his original address to the Congress Party. He went to the poorest of the poor, stood with them, went to jail for them, got their sufferings documented in international press, and got the British government to lessen their suffering. Doing this he reorientated the direction of the Congress Party inspring it to do mass organizing. He also lived simply in an ashram wearing the simplest of clothes, giving up the priviledge his high caste and education would have offered him. That Ghandi--the one who joins up with the poor to help them--I had never met before. The movie show again and again how Ghandi's compaigns--against buying British manufactured clothing and attempting to revive the Indian clothing industry and against British monopoly of salt--always helped them masses of the poor. Ghandi showed how if you want to have a mass movement you have to have policies totally relevant to the poor.
Ghandi the movie is wonderful. It's good to see in these trying times.
Causes Julia Stein Supports
Doctors Without Borders