Monday, 25 August 2014

Rest in Peace: Richard Attenborough

The actor’s director
August 29, 1923-August 24, 2014
I didn't know Richard Attenborough through his films as well as I knew him from reading about his films. I could relate to him as an actor, director, and producer of a little over a hundred films. I have, of course, seen less than ten that include The Great Escape, Miracle on 34th Street, and Jurassic Park in the three categories.

He was mostly an actor who catapulted into the limelight in India with Gandhi, his epic directorial venture. Suddenly, Attenborough was a household name, as was the man he cast in the Mahatma's slippers, Ben Kingsley, who by a coincidence happened to be half-Indian; he was born Krishna Pandit Bhanji, in England. Attenborough could not have chosen a more suitable actor to play Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Even today, for many in India Kingsley is still Gandhi.

When Gandhi won eight Academy Awards, an entire nation rejoiced as if the film was made by an Indian. The only thing Indian about Gandhi was its frail and sparsely-clad subject. The award-winning Slumdog Millionaire by Danny Boyle evoked a similar response, though on a much smaller scale. Still, we felt a kinship with both the films, especially Gandhi as it was about a historically important period of time and because it had several noted Indian character actors.


Attenborough (left) directs Kingsley in Gandhi
© Frank Connor/www.bafta.org

Richard Attenborough brought to life the larger-than-life persona of Mahatma Gandhi, more than scores of books and comic-books and audio and video documentaries ever had until 1982.

I think one of the primary reasons why Gandhi became a phenomenal success in India was because Attenborough did not deviate from the real-life script of the Mahatma’s life, his trials and tribulations, the freedom struggle, the partition of India into India and Pakistan, independence in 1947, and his assassination.
 Everything was as we'd learned about him since school. In fact, as the film rolled we could anticipate certain events that occurred during the freedom movement; like the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Punjab, in April 1919, when General Dyer ordered his men to open fire directly on a crowd of peaceful protesters. Over a thousand men and women died; scores of others jumped into the garden's wells to escape the bullets and were killed. It remains one of the bleakest periods and Dyer the most hated man in Indian history. 

Gandhi is one of my all-time favourite movies and I see it at least once a year when, in a spirit of patriotism, it is telecast on India's republic day, January 26, and on her independence day, August 15—a memorable tribute to a great man and to the human spirit. In India, at least, Richard Attenborough sealed his fame with that epochal film.

14 comments:

  1. It has been years since I have seen this great movie but I still can recall vividly many of the scenes.

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    1. Mel, I never get tired of watching GANDHI, a very well-scripted film.

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  2. I remember him well from Jurassic Park and Miracle on 34th street. I enjoyed him as an actor.

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    1. Charles, I liked the way Attenborough smiles through the JURASSIC PARK films. He came across as an affable chap.

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  3. Thanks for setting the record straight for me. I have long thought there was resentment in India that a "western" actor was cast in this film's lead role. I, too, have a vivid memory of this film--the opening shot which slowly fades in like the dawning of awareness in the life of a newborn. (I think that's how it begins anyway.) I also remember another film, about Gandhi's death, based on a novel, Nine Hours to Rama.

    When I think of Attenborough, I recall a Brian Forbes film he made in 1964 with Kim Stanley, Seance on a Wet Afternoon.

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    1. Ron, you're welcome. As far as I can remember there was no resentment against Kingsley for being cast as Gandhi. His role and acting has been appreciated by all my friends and acquaintances.. Thanks for mentioning NINE HOURS TO RAMA by Stanley Wolpert. It's a book I want to read. I have not seen the film version or even SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON for that matter.

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  4. I did not know that the film Gandhi was so well liked in India. Thanks for sharing this with us. I am not familiar with all of Attenborough's films but The Great Escape is a favorite, and I like Jurassic Park too.

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    1. Tracy, you're welcome. Ben Kingsley is quite popular in India and, I think, he received a warn welcome when he visited the country several years ago. I also remember him in SCHINDLER'S LIST where he was overshadowed by Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes.

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  5. Well done Prashant, a very thoughtful tribute to an icon of world cinema - I am a huge fan of his work, and reall enjoyed your post on Attenborough. Cheers mate

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    1. Sergio, thank you. Frankly, I never thought of seeing his other films while he was in our midst. I guess this is what they mean by leaving behind a lasting legacy.

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  6. I found that very interesting, Prashant: thank you for sharing that about the reception the film had in India.

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    1. Moira, you're welcome. The film's success in India can be attributed to the study of the freedom struggle in schools from a very young age. Indian history is fascinating.

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  7. 34th Street is the one I know him for best of all. I've never seen Gandhi....hangs head shamefully.

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    1. Col, I strongly recommend GANDHI. It is one of the finest historical films I have seen.

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