One of two feuding Mohammedan cousins living in Britain but of Indian origin seek the assistance of an Indian Barrister to travel to Britain and settle their matter in a court of law. The ... See full summary »
One of two feuding Mohammedan cousins living in Britain but of Indian origin seek the assistance of an Indian Barrister to travel to Britain and settle their matter in a court of law. The Barrister travels to Britain, and finds that all Asians are treated as coolies, and their status is worse than of servants. Despite of being dressed in a suit and a tie, he is thrown out of a first class train compartment; is asked to remove his cap in a court of law; asked to ride with the driver of the coach; and even shoved out on the footpath for daring to walk close to a bureaucrat's premises; beaten, and abused with no recourse to any justice. His attempts to grieve these issues is met with strong governmental and bureauctatic disapproval and opposition. Notwithstanding this, he settles the dispute between the two cousins out of court, and sets about trying to organize the local Asians to assert their rights, and even represents some of them in Court. Then he journeys to Durban, South Africa, ... Written by
Gandhi's years as a barrister in South Africa aren't as well-known as his later years in his homeland, but he spent 21 years of his life there and is was while fighting against the open injustice there that he formed, tested and put into practice the principals of passive resistance, civil disobedience and dedication to the truth (Satyagraha). It's a period covered also in the Philip Glass opera Satyagraha, but sung in Sanskrit with a libretto taken from the Bhagavad Gita, relating Gandhi's work in South Africa to three other major like-minded public figures, Rabindranath Tagore, Leo Tolstoy and Martin Luther King, Glass's interpretation is rather more poetic and mythical, while Shyam Benegal's The Making of the Mahatma is a rather more straightforward and direct account of Mohandas Gandhi's actions in South Africa and his influence in winning important battles for the rights of Indian workers there.
The acting may be a little bit stiff and theatrical, the direction and editing of scenes mainly workmanlike and matter of fact, but it suits the period (the film covers 1893-1914 of Gandhi's life), and more importantly, its lack of high drama suits the passivity of the subject matter. That doesn't mean however that the film is anything less than compelling or involving, the viewer left in no doubt about the nature of the abuse, mistreatment and lack of rights or justice accorded to anyone in South Africa who isn't white and European. Even in his first two days first two days in the country. Gandhi is expelled from a Durban courtroom by the judge for wearing a turban that is traditional in his profession in India, attacked in public on a number of occasions, and physically ejected from a train for having the temerity to sit in the seat he has purchased rather than share the baggage wagon with the "coolies".
The nature of such bigotry, intolerance and violence that people are subjected to and the sheer injustice of a society that represses non-whites are clearly laid out in the film and is quite shocking. More than just matter-of-factly relating a series of events then, The Making of Mohandas purposefully charts the progress and experiences that would transform Gandhi into the figure who would become so important in achieving the independence of India. The experience of war in the Transvaal and the war with the Zulus have a significant impact, Ghandi coming to the conclusion that injustice can only be effected through non-violent protest and civil disobedience, giving the people a voice through the Indian Opinion newspaper, opposing and then burning registration cards, leading a march to highlight the injustice of poll taxes imposed on the Indian population and intolerance for their religious beliefs. The film moves well through these events, gaining in power and in impressiveness of spectacle that culminates with the New Castle March in 1913 of Gandhi's Satyagraha army.
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