Happy Birthday Gandhi!

Uncategorized | | October 2, 2008 at 4:06 am
It is Gandhi’s birthday today and it is a day I hold of great respect each year. Besides being a strong follower of his belief of invoking change in others so that they see the result of their actions. I also am an avid believer in non-violence for change. I was fortunate enough to go to school at the Phoenix settlement in South Africa. This was the place Gandhi had settled in South Africa and established his printing press and home. The school I went to, The Kasturba Gandhi Primary School (equivalent to an Elementary School), was named after his wife. I still remember walking during the break to his Printing Press. I never knew at the time that I was so privileged to be able to touch a part of history. Neither did I know that I would be one of the last ones to be a part of that history. Tragedy struck, and in 1985 my hometown (Inanda) along with the settlement was burnt to ashes in a political riot. I recall being told the morning that I could not go to school as riots had already erupted there, and being very angry at missing school (what can I say I was a geek), and at 13, I was oblivious to the danger around me. That night I lost my home to the riots but was lucky enough to evacuate with the only the clothes on my back. Anyway, I digress, this riot took away such a gem of history and I am sorry that people today won’t be able to share in it.

Something else regarding Gandhi that bothers me is the movie Gandhi, or most importantly the cast of Gandhi. I loved a movie depicting Gandhi for all he stands for and have the utmost respect for Richard Attenborough. What galls me though is that in a population of a billion Indians he could not find one single Indian to play Gandhi. Not only that, if you see the cast names, the first Indian name is not even in the 1st 10 names and then they get scattered towards the latter part of the credits. Come on, I think the person playing Nehru or Kasturba his wife should be listed a little higher, don’t you think? Am I the only one who thinks something is amiss? I wonder whether people would ever accept a white person depicting Martin Luther King, or a black depicting a Kennedy. Ben Kingsley is a fine actor, but excuse me he should NOT be playing Gandhi.

I was fortunate enough, while on a tourist trip to India, be able to visit his home. I also visited his place of death, a place where a diya (lamp) is kept and the flame is never allowed to go out. I hope we don’t disappoint the faith he had in mankind. Happy Birthday Gandhiji and may your soul rest in peace.


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6 Comments

  1. 1
    Ragini says:

    Happy Gandhi Jayanti to you too!

    On your comment about the cast of the movie – I disagree;) Obviously the cast could have been pre-dominantly Indian but why should race play any part in any decision. When Ben Kingsley prepped for the role, he went the Gandhian route all the way to get under the skin of the character – and the performance showed that. And the fact that Gandhi got so much mileage at the Oscars in a very different time from now- that brought India predominantly on the World stage. I love Bollywood to death but at the time this movie was done and we were babies – it was in it’s over dramatic phase and was technologically far behind. The few scenes that they did in India was very difficult too.

    I love the movie as it is – Indians or no Indians in it – doesn’t matter to me. My two cents. :)

  2. 2
    Mommy Niri says:

    True, we did get Oscars more due to the high profile western actors. Outside of Bollywood there are loads of talented actors (and inside too). I think more than publicity to me is the essence of western approval that I don’t think is needed.

    Ben Kingsley did a fine job, no question about that, but honestly I still feel strongly that there are many good actors that are Indians that could do it too. I persist that no matter how great the actor no one would accept a white person playing Mandela.

    Somehow I doubt that would ever be accepted!

  3. 3
    Ragini says:

    I think the film got the Oscars because of it was well done cinema. I don’t I implied that we need “western approval”. You have to consider that this movie was done in the 80s and where Bollywood as an industry was at that point of time. Yes, Nelson Mandela will never be played by a white man, but they don’t need to find a black actor in Africa per say.

    Honestly, race should not play a part in anything. If someone has the ability to pull something off – more power to them.

    BTW, Bollywood has taken several attempts at making Gandhi with Indian actors – some of them are actually half decent but they have not come close to delivering anything stellar like what Attenborough deliver 20+ years ago.

    I need to run for Lunch now. Speak to you later.

  4. 4
    Mommy Niri says:

    Agreed that race aside whoever can do the job better should, but this is Gandhi. It is not a story of Amitabh’s life. He spent his life showing pride in everything authentically Indian, including his clothing. I somehow find it too ironic that the person acting as him was not even an Indian (he did not have to come Indian, but he could at least be authentically Indian).

    Richard Attenborough is very talented and could have pulled wonders with an Indian actor too. It was very good cinema, no one can deny that but some credit has to go with big budgets too. There is no way a movie of that price tag could have been done with that ease with an Indian director. Bigger pockets certainly did help too.

  5. 5
    Ragini says:

    Ben Kingsley is Indian in a twisty sort of way – Kingsley was born Krishna Bhanji in Snainton, near Scarborough, Yorkshire, England, the son of Anna Lyna Mary (née Goodman), an actress and model, and Rahimtulla Harji Bhanji, a medical doctor. Kingsley’s father, an Ismaili Muslim, was born in Kenya of Indian Khoja Gujarati descent, as Kingsley’s paternal grandfather was a spice trader who had moved from India to Zanzibar, where Kingsley’s father lived until moving to England at the age of fourteen.

    It is sad that he chose to change his name because he feared that a foreign name would limit his acting career. And it is ironic that a lot of people don’t know that he is half Indian.

    That is my point – I don’t want my children to be evaluated based on race, nationality and sex. period. That thinking is flawed and does not serve any one any good.

  6. 6
    Mommy Niri says:

    Very interesting to learn. My point still stands as in how the movie was cast and even the order of listing of the cast.

    Understanding and standing up for a race is no way meant to divide up people but know who we are. Having had my great grandparents born in South Africa I learnt the hard way how my grandparents and parents choice to mainstream lost me my culture.

    I still re-iterate no one else would accept someone not representative of their race playing a pivotal figure.

    Thanks for reading and also for very interesting information too.

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