Monday, December 13, 2010

Gandhi, or My Misspent Youth

I first saw Gandhi at some point in middle school--so somewhere between August of 1991 and June of 1994 and the ages of just-turned-12 and 14.5 ish. It's one of those things where I'm always amazed when someone hasn't seen the film (cough *brainmate* cough)--I just sort of assume everyone watched the film in middle school. Sort of like most people being amazed that I didn't read Catcher in the Rye until I was 20-something.

Anyway, I'm not sure 12-14 was the age to see the film really. First, I'm fairly certain I saw ALL of the film and not an edited down version so what history teacher did I have who wanted to devote basically a whole week to watching a film? You should also know that during those years I remember watching Roots in a history course, too. And I wonder why I don't really have a head for history. Second, even though I might be fairly bright, I'm fairly certain that the ages of 12-14 are not prime years of cultural discernment. While I might have understood the idea of the film, I doubt I really "got" the film and I certainly wouldn't have questioned it in a real way. And, third, thanks to watching the film then, I now only think of Ben Kingsley as Gandhi. Seriously. And, vice versa. Really. I had to do a Google image search to remember what the real man looked like.

So, the verdict watching the film again some 16-19 years later? It's a damned good movie and it holds up. It doesn't look like a 1982 film. E.T., Tootsie, An Officer and a Gentleman, Porky's, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas are a few of the highest grossing films released in 1982 just to give you a mental reminder of the era. And, to add further kudos to the timelessness of the film, 1001 Movies tells me that the director, Richard Attenborough, conceived the idea in 1962.

It also doesn't feel like the three hours (with an intermission) that it is--which is a feat with me. And I love the acting--Kingsley is a favorite (probably due to this role) and everyone seems to fit seamlessly within the cast, even the bazillion extras.

So, what makes for an outstanding film? In certain cases, like this one, it's a film that makes you ask questions rather than serving all of the answers on a silver platter. What I'll leave it up to my partner in crime to discuss--or help me figure out--is whether the film is actually good for the Indian people. I'd venture a yes tentatively but it is also a film made by Brits about India which is the very tension within the film and that is always problematic.

I'm also curious about the Indians employed by the English in the film who act violently against those who are uprising--the guards at the salt mine, for example, who violently and repeatedly beat their fellow Indians--or those who seem to simply not participate at all. The only point I see this vaguely dealt with is when Gandhi takes the tea tray away from the servant in Jinnah's (right person?) home. Did this class/group/section of Indians ever join the uprising? If so, when? If not, why? And how was this class/group/section of Indians impacted by the withdrawal of the English? Was there a backlash against that group by the revolutionaries?

And, another thing I'm not clear on is the India/Pakistan divide. I don't know much about this historically as I have no memory of studying anything remotely connected to India except watching Gandhi. Can the film really work if the viewer doesn't know that context well? I may need to find someone who knows Indian history to fill me in on these things.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, as I kind of alluded to in my post, I think the movie is good for Indian people precisely because it doesn't really try to *be* about Indian people. Though that does lead to the problems you mentioned above concerning how this movement/man was experienced by the majority of citizens who weren't close to him or explicitly part of his movement.

    And do you think the "little brown man in a loincloth" comment at the funeral was meant to be heard ironically by modern audiences? God, I hope so. And if so, it might be a big old cue card right up front that this is going to be a Western look at a man the West deeply admired, but maybe didn't completely understand.