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Facts and Fiction – Gandhi, the Film

For countless viewers around the world, especially the Indians, the film, Gandhi (1982) is based on truth and nothing but the truth (Tyler, 2007). It is a film about the leader’s intense struggle against civil rights abuses during colonial times in India, and also South Africa, as far as the civil rights of Indians in South Africa were concerned (Gandhi, 1982). But, the man is portrayed as virtually flawless, even as his enemies, the British, are portrayed as essentially evil throughout the film (Jacobson, 2007).

According to a reviewer of the film, stereotyping is unacceptable for those that are seeking facts rather than fiction in Gandhi (“Summary, Analysis, and Review of the Film ‘Gandhi’”). Although the film appears to depict truth, as it would be read in the history books published in India – Western writers have worked hard to sift the historical facts of the film, for the simple reason that Gandhi was a formidable enemy of the British Empire in India. Besides, it is believed that the film did not do justice by depicting the British as completely evil (“Summary, Analysis, and Review of the Film ‘Gandhi’”).

Gandhi is believed to have been a saint for the Indians. He is portrayed as a saint in the film as well. However, Grenier (1983) writes that the man of truth, Gandhi the leader, was a pervert to boot. Perhaps such details are efforts to defame the character of the leader. It is shocking, nevertheless, to read the following details about Gandhi, claimed to have been extracted from credible sources: I cannot honestly say I had any reasonable expectation that the film would show scenes of Gandhi’s pretty teenage girl followers fighting “hysterically” (the word was used) for the

honor of sleeping naked with the Mahatma and cuddling the nude septuagenarian in their arms. (Gandhi was “testing” his vow of chastity in order to gain moral strength for his mighty struggle with Jinnah. ) When told there was a man named Freud who said that, despite his declared intention, Gandhi might actually be *enjoying* the caresses of the naked girls, Gandhi continued, unperturbed. Nor, frankly, did I expect to see Gandhi giving daily enemas to all the young girls in his ashrams (his daily greeting was, “Have you had a good bowel movement this morning, sisters? “), nor see the girls giving him *his* daily enema.

Although Gandhi seems to have written less about home rule for India than he did about enemas, and excrement, and latrine cleaning (“The bathroom is a temple. It should be so clean and inviting that anyone would enjoy eating there”), I confess such scenes might pose problems for a Western director (Grenier). All saints are human beings, after all. Showing a saint in a film or writing his story for children to read in history books, the filmmaker or the author must necessarily exclude facts that would taint the saintliness of the saint before those that are not grownup enough to accept reality at face value.

But, according to DiSalvo (1997), there are many other distorted facts in Gandhi, the film. It is not just his character that is essentially questionable. The first scene in the film shows Gandhi’s funeral attended by approximately 300,000 people (DiSalvo). According to DiSalvo, fewer people had attended his funeral. Other historical inaccuracies depicted in the film include the scene of burning identity passes by the Indians of South Africa. Gandhi was beaten mercilessly by a police constable when he refused to follow official orders.

Toward the end of the scene, Gandhi is victorious; he has managed to burn all passes (DiSalvo). But, DiSalvo writes that although identity passes were burned by the Indians of South Africa, Gandhi was never beaten at the time. DiSalvo believes that Richard Attenborough, the director of Gandhi, has taken the liberty to distort reality in order to portray Gandhi of the history books. The leader is portrayed as a hero, even in situations where he did not really take the lead. As another example of distorted reality, Gandhi is shown as making a “fiery speech” in 1906 (DiSalvo).

The speech ends on a positive note: Gandhi manages to rally troops of South African Indians for his cause. DiSalvo reports that it was not Gandhi whose speech thrilled the audience enough to gather significant support for the cause that Gandhi was fighting for. It was Haji Habib, “a member of the merchant elite,” whose speech worked wonders at the time (DiSalvo). Also according to DiSalvo, Attenborough had actually planned to show Gandhi’s philosophy in action in the film rather than make a film that was based on truth and nothing but the truth. After all, scholars have found historical inaccuracies through Gandhi, the film.

It is the philosophies of the messiah-like character that Gandhi is believed to be that continue to inspire the Indians today. By portraying him as a perfect model for the Indians, Attenborough is not believed to have committed injustice to history. Perfection breeds perfection. An imperfect Gandhi might have been shunned as a historical figure in India, with all its emphasis on perfect rituals. References DiSalvo, C. R. (1997). Gandhi: The Spirituality and Politics of Suffering. Oklahoma City University Law Review 22(1). Gandhi. (1982). Dir. Richard Attenborough. Cast: Ben Kingsley, Candice Bergon, Edward Fox,

Martin Sheen, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Saeed Jaffri, & Geraldine James. Grenier, R. (1983, Mar). The Gandhi Nobody Knows. Commentary. Jacobson, C. (2007, Mar 7). Gandhi (1982). DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved Oct 27, 2008, from http://www. dvdmg. com/gandhi. shtml. Summary, Analysis, and Review of the Film ‘Gandhi’ (1982) by Richard Attenborough. Article Myriad. Retrieved Oct 27, 2008, from http://www. articlemyriad. com/109. htm. Tyler, J. (2007, Apr 4). Gandhi. Absolutely. Retrieved Oct 27, 2008, from http://www. absolutely. net/movie/1982_Gandhi. html.

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