This is more of a “heads up” review than a full review because the film is still in its post-production stage. I will go into more detail later and include the usual discussion questions sometime this summer.
Not rated. Running time: c. 56 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 3; Language 0; Sex/Nudity 0.
Our star rating (1-5): 5
Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’
Gandhi became my major hero when I was in high school beginning to become aware of the implications of Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. As a science fiction fan one of my favorite stories was Eric Frank Russell’s “…And Then There Were None,” set on a distant planet that had been settled by followers of Gandhi. * My collection of Gandhi books, many of them ordered from his press in India, used to be one of the largest sections of my library. Thus, I was delighted when film producer Cynthia Lukas contacted me about screening her film, scheduled for airing on PBS in September.
The film concentrates on the last few years of his life, beginning with his release on May 6, 1944 from imprisonment in in the Aga Khan’s palace where he had been held since August of 1942. Mourning the death of his wife, he also was so ill that he was expected to die soon. Neither PM Churchill nor the British Indian authorities wanted him die while in their custody. To Churchill’s expressed disappointment, Gandhi recovered. However, the glory days of the nation-wide satyagraha campaigns were over, and his dream for a united India free of British rule was in jeopardy. His meeting with Muslim leader Muhammed Ali Jinnah in Bombay during the summer of 1944 ended with Jinnah continuing to hold out for a separate Muslim nation. Extremists. Both Muslim and Hindu, fanned the flames of sectarian suspicion and hatred. Gandhi was so broken-hearted that he refused to attend the ceremonies on August 15, 1947 celebrating his nations independence. But he was soon actively working against the hatred that was issuing in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people as Muslims fled to Pakistan to escape being massacred, and Hindus did the same to India. Through visiting various villages to urge peaceful coexistence in what became East Pakistan, and then going to Delhi where he fasted to stop the on-going violence, Gandhi saved countless more lives, this being a part of his “gift” in the film’s title.
Director Kell Kearns and his co-writer Cynthia Lukas skillfully weave together lengthy newsreel clips of Gandhi and his supporters and photos with interviews with Gandhi’s still living grandson Dr. Rajmohan Gandhi, and Subhas Chander serves as Gandhi’s voice for the many pithy quotes used throughout the film. Other interviewees are peace activist and Gandhi biographer James Douglass and environmentalist Dr. Vandana Shiva. We even hear the voice of Gandhi in at least one clip. Christians will be pleased to hear Gandhi quote the words of Christ from the cross, inspiring him to want to also be able to forgive an assassin that he knew full well would one day end his life.
Even though I thought I knew a lot about the Mahatma, having read several dozen books by and about him, I learned a great deal more from this film. But then, this man was so complex, his activities so many, that there will always be more to learn. My only negative criticism of this excellent film is that at times I had time understanding the words of some of the contributors, an easily remedied solution if the finished DVD includes subtitles.
This might be a good time to watch again Richard Attenborough’s classic Gandhi and watch at least the last portion that dramatizes many of the incidents reported in Kearns’ film. Also, I picked up recently the DVD Partition, a love story about a Sikh ex-soldier and a Muslim woman caught up in the turmoil of the mass migrations between the two hostile nations. Watch for my review of it soon.
This is a documentary that social justice activist should watch this fall and then add the DVD to their collections. As Mr. Kearns says in his press release, “Gandhi’s final years are especially inspiring because he showed our world a way out of the descending spiral of valance and hatred.” Thus, Gandhi’s gift is not only to his beloved India, but to the whole world. If we only accept and use it.”
*Russells’ delightful sci-fi satirical story, set in the 27th century, can be read at http://www.abelard.org/e-f-russell.php. (I still own the June 1951 of the magazine in which it appeared, Astounding SCIENCE FICTION.) Gandhi is not named in this story because so much time has passed since settlers from Earth came to the planet, but they call themselves “Gands,” and their refusal to cooperate with the newly arrived authorities from Earth is as effective as his noncooperation with the British raj.