It's Gandhiji's birthday today. He's been called Bapu, the Mahatma, the father of the nation .. his full name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi - and no, Indira, Rajiv, Sonia and Rahul are not related to him.
The first time I saw this film was at Lido Cinema, it was a night show and I will never forget the audience reaction, it was uncanny. The scene just before the intermission was of Gandhi and Nehru visiting the aftermath of the massacre by General Dyer at Jallianwala Bagh: They look into each other's eyes, the scene fades out and the word "Interval" comes up on the screen. This is usually the cue for a mad rush by the audience to be first to use the toilets, to buy coffee or popcorn or smoke that cigarette.
Nobody moved. We all just sat there. It took a few minutes before people started, one by one, to get up and leave the hall. Outside, there was no pushing and shoving, no chaos. Just people standing quietly in line for the toilets, letting others through to get a coffee, smoking quietly under trees.
It's something I've never forgotten.
Today, I'm reading the screenplay by John Briley. I just finished the introduction and wanted to share some excerpts with you:
".. I was certain that no one in the Detroit of my boyhood or my adopted town in semi-rural Englad would want to pay to see a film about an old man who sat on a rug in a loincloth and spouted words about peace and passive resistance. "
He goes on to tell how he ended up working on the project, and how hard it was to comprehend Gandhi's impact, in spite of all his reading and research, until he turned to Gandhi's own writings - his newspaper articles and his hundreds and hundreds of letters.
" .. gradually the personality of this open, questing, unpretentious man began to unfold for me. The well-springs of his courage, his humility, the humour, the compelling power of his sense of the human dilemma .. and gradually I saw too that Gandhi was not 'impractical', not 'idealistic'. His ideas were forged in painful experience, a growth of perception earned from a life far harsher than anything I have ever known.
"In writing Gandhi I have tried to make real the brave, determined man I discovered and to show his unsentimental honesty about the complexity of men and his unshakable belief that on balance they are marginally more inclined to good than evil ..
"Gandhi lived -- and I hope the movie of GANDHI reflects - the most fundamental drama of all: the war in our hearts between love and hate. He knew it was a war, a war with many defeats, but he believed in only one victor. That is what Gandhi has given me. I have tried in the screenplay to give it back in a way that I hope would have won his approval."
(from the Author's Preface of GANDHI The Screenplay by John Briley)
P.S. He won an Oscar that year for Best Original Screenplay.