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Sir Richard Attenborough He Man Who Introduced Me To “Gandhi”

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By Ali Peter John

I had always heard and read about Mahatma Gandhi. I knew him as “the Mahatma”, “Bapu”, “the father of the nation” and “the apostle of peace” among the other names and titles given to him. I like many other Indians deified and worshiped him in words which had very little feelings. We as a nation had got used to seeing him as a statue, as a photograph in every important place, in Parliament, in the offices of Prime Ministers and Presidents, in the offices of every minister small or big, every man in power even in the most remote villages and even in the homes and offices of men and women who practiced all that they believed in and certainly not in what Gandhi had taught them to believe in. He was slowly becoming a shelter for birds, crows and pigeons and a piece of decoration which was garlanded with sandal wood flowers because those who used these flowers knew that they would have to garland his photographs only once and then forget all about him and his teachings and his one- man fight for freedom for every Indian…

It was strangely a Britisher, the well-known actor and director Sir Richard Attenborough who took on the responsibility of bringing Mahatma Gandhi alive and moving the world and making the world realize how much the world today needed a Mahatma like Mahatma Gandhi. Sir Richard took twenty years to do his research on Gandhi and was ready to make the film after he had taken every little precaution…

I had the good fortune of meeting Sir Richard in Bombay during the shooting of “Gandhi” in Bombay. He stayed with his entire unit at the Sea Rock Hotel in Bandra during all the time he shot for the film in and around the city.

I can say that I even had an important part in the making of “Gandhi”. Sir Richard needed a good Indian actress to play Kasturba, the wife of Gandhi. The lady who was the casting agent, Dolly Thakore wanted an actress called Rohini Hattangadi who was a big name in Marathi and Hindi theatre, but no one knew where she lived. It was I who knew her house in a chawl in Wadala who led the assistants of Sir Richard to Rohini’s house and Sir Richard did not take more than fifteen minutes to finalize Rohini as Kasturba, the wife of Gandhi played in the film by a British actor who had his origins in India, Ben Kingsley…

It was while he was having a very private dinner in a very small hotel called Wongs, a part of the Sun-N- Sand Hotel in Juhu which specialized in Chinese food that I saw Sir Richard in a green Khadi Kurta enjoying his dinner after a hard day’s work. I went to him after he had finished his dinner and asked him to tell me something about his experience of making a film on one of the most outstanding characters of history like Mahatma Gandhi. He was very brief, but very excited talking about “Gandhi”. He said, “I have never been fascinated by any other figure who has shaped the history of the world like Gandhi has. It is this belief I had in Gandhi, the man and the missionary that made me give away twenty years of my life to reach a stage when I believed I could do justice to the Mahatma. I am doing my very best to pay my tribute to the Mahatma and I know that if I go wrong in any way I will be killed in a more brutal way than the Mahatma was”…

I had another privilege to see him at work when he was shooting the unbelievable Dandi March on the sands of Madh Island and Gorai. He had five different units and five different cameramen to shoot the sequence which involved more than a lakh of people while he kept in constant touch with all of them. It was a delight to see a director in his sixties working with the kind of energy Sir Richard was. It was at the end of the same evening that I met him for a few minutes in a hotel called Manoribel. He was again dressed in a green Kurta and was still very fresh after shooting all day. I was surprised when he recognized me and asked me to share a table with him. He only had all the good words to say about Ben Kingsley who was “giving up his life to bring Gandhi alive”. He also had all the praise for actors like Rohini, Roshan Seth (who played Jawaharlal Nehru), Saeed Jaffery (who played Sardar Patel), Alyque Padamsee (who played Mohammad Ali Jinnah) and even actors like Om Puri and Amrish Puri who had bit roles in the magnum opus he was making. This man who was talking to me was Sir Richard who had acted in some of the biggest films and had also directed some well-known films, but he never gave anyone the feeling about his greatness which is what he had learnt from the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi…

He took all the pains and got all the pleasure a maker needs to do his best. And when the film was released it created a sensation. I and my whole generation had for the first time come to know that a great soul like Mahatma Gandhi had walked the soil of this country and fought with his greatest weapon, Ahimsa (non-violence). I cried like a child when I saw the greatness of the Mahatma who some of us Indians had forgotten or were in the process of forgetting, a Mahatma who was even cursed by some Indians for their own reasons. The film was such a masterpiece that it went on to win eight Oscar Awards including the award for the best director, the best actor and even the best costume designer which was won by our own Indian designer, Bhanu Athaiya…

There have been many other efforts at creating the story of Mahatma Gandhi again in films, documentaries and TV serials, but if Gandhi will be remembered for thousands of years to come, it will certainly be because of the way Sir Richard made the message of the Mahatma and the Mahatma to life which will live forever like the teachings of Jesus Christ, Mohammad, Buddha, Mahavir and even one of the last great men, Nelson Mandela who was an ardent admirer of Gandhi.

Will we have another Gandhi? Will we have another Sir Richard to keep Gandhi alive for people to remember every time they lose faith in the goodness of humanity and the power of truth overcoming the darkness of untruth…?

Ps. we need to make Sir Richard’s film on Gandhi a part of the syllabus of every educational institution where the future of India is being molded. We also need the film to be shown as many times as possible in these trying times when violence has become a way of life in every corner of India, and the world and no one cares or remembers how Gandhi lived and died to see that non-violence triumphed over violence.

It is a very sorry state of affairs when young men (and women) curse the Mahatma on his Jayanti (birthday) and Punyatithi (anniversary) on October 2 and January 30 because these two days are “DRY DAYS” when all the bars and as liquor shops are closed, officially but liquor is available wherever there are people in power who can get anything done and for whom serving liquor without caring two hoots for the Mahatma and even under a photograph or painting of his is child’s play. How will Gandhi live if this kind of insult and many others insults are hurled by some of the dirty and wily politicians for whom Gandhi is only a means to serve their own dirty aims and goals…

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Tags: Bollywood, Bollywood News, Bollywood Updates, Television, Telly News, Richard Attenborough

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