Attenborough's Gandhi: The movie and the idea of India

This October 2, we must organise a special screening of the movie for our lawmakers. Let's see how many turn up, wonders KumKum Dasgupta.

analysis Updated: Aug 26, 2014 12:43 IST
KumKum Dasgupta
KumKum Dasgupta
Hindustan Times

When I heard about Richard Attenborough's death, the first thing I did was Google his acceptance speeches at the 55th Academy Awards. Gandhi, which was released in November 1982, was nominated in 11 categories, winning eight including the Best Picture, Best Director (Attenborough) and Best Actor (Ben Kingsley).

Here is what the director said at the Academy after receiving the 'Best Picture' award for Gandhi:
"Gandhi simply asked that we should examine the criteria by which we adjudge the manner of solving our problems. That surely in the 20th century we human beings searching for our human dignity could find other ways of ultimately solving our problems than blowing the other man's head off. He begged us to re-examine that criteria. He believed that if we would but agree, simplistic though it be, that we would not resort to violence in the ultimate. Then the route that we would take in solving our problems would be a quite different one to the one that we accept now in the acceptance of ultimate confrontation. He begged us to re-examine that criteria. I believe he had something to say to all of us everywhere in the world".

Read: Richard Attenborough: The man who knew Mahatma better than most of us

As I read these beautiful and thoroughly relevant words, I checked Twitter to see what our political worthies have tweeted on the director or his subject: I could not find much, except some saying 'RIP #Attenborough' and putting up some quotes; which is just as well because hardly any of them believes in 'Gandhiana' (inter-faith understanding; opposition to gender discrimination; the need to listen to adversaries and consensus building etc) anymore, though you can't beat their enthusiasm when it comes to giving lip service to his thoughts.

However, when it comes to instilling 'Gandhiana' in the people, the State has been thoroughly focussed: every October 2, during my growing up years, the public broadcaster would telecast 'Gandhi'. I don't know whether they still do that but I have a creepy feeling that the mandarins of Mandi House are rubbing their hands in glee that this year they have a solid reason to telecast one more round of Gandhi.

Read: Richard Attenborough, the auteur who brought Gandhi alive on screen, dead

But why always subject only us - the aam admi - to his thoughts and ideas? After all, as historian Ramchandra Guha said in an interview, "... if Gandhi still lives .... he doesn't live in formal, electoral politics, he is alive in civil society. Even if India rejects him, other people will affirm him, in Tibet, in Burma, in Adams Spring ideas on satyagraha were circulated.."

So here is an idea for to ensure that Gandhi crosses the civil society wall and seep into the world of politics: this October 2, after all State functions are over, the National Film Development Corporation/Doordarshan must organise a special screening of Gandhi for the MPs.

Read: 'Gandhi' director Richard Attenborough dies at 90

Let's see how many turn up. I fear not many would because the idea of pluralism, consensus building and listening to the 'other' has become an anathema in India today since, unlike Gandhi, most of our leaders are content to live only in the world of formal, electoral politics.

And in that world, a Muzzaffarnagar here, a Kokrajhar there are par for the course and no one - and this goes for all political parties - seem to be ready to relook at "the criteria by which we adjudge the manner of solving our problems".

Follow KumKum Dasgupta on Twitter: @kumkumdasgupta

First Published: Aug 26, 2014 12:16 IST