Film: 8900

Personalities | 1950 | Sound | B/W

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Synopsis:

Life of Mahatma Gandhi 1950's

Intertitle, against a backdrop of a river and colonial buildings in India, South Asia:
'The film you are about to see contains materials collected from four continents and photographed by nearly a hundred different cameramen. Some of the scenes were made many years ago under extremely difficult conditions. These facts account for certain technical imperfections in some of the pictures.
'Mahatma Gandhi stands forth as one of the great men of modern history. His life and achievements are already part of mankind's recognized heritage.
'The development of the motion picture has fallen virtually within the same time span as Gandhi's struggle for freedom. For this reason, photographers have been able to capture on film, highlights of the life of this man.'

Friday, 30 January 1948: a United Nations flag, fluttering in the wind, is lowered to half-mast to mark the death of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi lying on a flower-strewn bier, surrounded by solemn Indian ladies. Commentator points out that for the first time in its history, the UN Assembly set aside a day in session to honour 'a man' - not a political or military leader. Shots of the UN Assembly interspersed with shot of Indian soldiers, including some on horses, processing through the streets of Delhi, as Gandhi's body is borne to be cremated.

Gandhi, dressed in his trademark loincloth, speaking to a group of young Indian men in suits, and possibly Lord Mountbatten (in shadow). Members of the UN Assembly rise, their heads bowed, to mark the passing of a man called by some 'the most powerful figure of the twentieth century.'

<cuts abruptly to another scene> A large castle built into a hill, with Indian and some colonial houses in the foreground, possibly Gujarat, Gandhi's birthplace. Head shot (early photograph) of Gandhi as a young law student, with neatly-combed hair, jacket and bow tie. Camera pans up the side of a magnificent edifice, possibly a Mughal fortress, as commentator explains how Gandhi began to search for the meaning of life, truth, love and power. Close-up of two books placed one over the other crossways - the Bhagavad Gita and the Bible - which Gandhi saw as the most important in existence. The top book opens to reveal the illustrated text of the Gita, written in Sanskritic script, possibly Hindi.

Camera pans upwards toward the top of an elaborately-carved, tapering roof of a Hindu temple, decorated with various deities and mythical creatures. More shots of interiors and exteriors of Hindu temples, showcasing a large variety of carvings, stupas, ceilings, floors, etc. as voiceover describes the philosophical combination of love and truth that Gandhi derived from the Gita and other aspects of Hinduism, which culminated in his doctrine of satyagraha (non-violence). Close-up of the second book on the table, the Bible, a hand opens it to the Gospel of Matthew, from which, with the rest of the New Testament, Gandhi drew his inspiration, especially from the Sermon on the Mount.

Gandhi's funeral again; Jawaharlal Nehru looks on solemnly, various other people mourn, one lady lies collapsed in tears in another's arms as commentator recalls how Gandhi 'gave his life' for his belief system, based on freedom and self-realisation, culled from his reading of the sacred texts.

A head shot of the young Gandhi, now with moustache and in a suit. After graduating with a degree in law at 22, Gandhi returned to India; stereotypically idyllic shot of a half-naked man, possibly a sadhu, praying at a placid lake/river, with exotic buildings on the other bank. He was soon sent to work in a law firm in South Africa. A steamer, its two chimneys billowing smoke, and its trail on the waves. A photo of Gandhi in South Africa, seated in the middle of a group of Europeans in suits (apart from a lady in blouse and skirt), in front of a windowpane that probably reads 'M.K. GANDHI. ATTORNEY'. Gandhi, too, is well-dressed, in a suit.

A grim line of Indian labourers weighed down by equipment, including mining picks, trudge up a hill on the side of a mine in South Africa - an example of the 'appalling social conditions' that Gandhi encountered and could not ignore. In stark contrast, a few Indians, clad simply in cloaks, stand around on the beach by a river - possibly near the commune he set up in his attempt to spread his philosophy of non-violence and way of life, and in response to these problems.

1915: Gandhi's return to India: multitudes of Indians, mostly men in Punjabi suits and caps, some bearing flowers, jostle and crowd a street decorated with garlands. Gandhi emerges from a car, now bald, wearing glasses, in a loincloth and cloak. More shots of Gandhi spreading his message of non-violence as the best weapon to obtain freedom for India: Gandhi being led through a crowd of people, who appear to have set up makeshift tents, with a man who may be Motilal Nehru, walking behind him. Gandhi sitting on the roof of a motorcar, holding an open umbrella over his head, as Indians crowd the car and the street and a banner is waved in the background.

1 August 1920: the funeral of Lokhamanya Tilak, leader of India's Congress Party. A street packed with mourners in white, bearing a funeral bier decked with flowers, banana leaves, cloth, etc. Gandhi being let onto a cushioned platform, possibly after the funeral, surrounded by crowds of seated people, while others, standing in the background, appear to either be organising the crowd of showing their support for Gandhi, chosen as Tilak's political heir. This may be the footage of a meeting of the Congress Party: groups of men sit outdoors on the grass, including a group behind a stringed barrier and a sign that reads 'VISITORS. Rs. 20'. Motilal Nehru saluting. Another shot of him speaking to someone in front of a banner, on which 'Calcutta' is discernible. The marquee set up for this meeting, seen from the back; hundreds of backs stretching to the front can be seen; most men are wearing white caps and are probably politically involved.

Gandhi steps in front of a standing microphone, addressing the crowd, as a flag flutters behind him. As leader of the Indian National Congress, Gandhi helped define new goals for India: equal rights for the Untouchables, a new code of morality for Indians, including no alcohol and opium, Hindu-Muslim harmony, equality for women, a productive economy. Various shots of Indian society: an Untouchable, presumably, pouring water into a deep pan. Busy streets teeming with hundreds of people, mostly Hindus. Another busy street filled with carts, motorcars and people, mostly in Muslim garb. Young girls in saris at work, manufacturing something - seated pairs work a grind, while others hunch over their work. Gandhi speaking at the microphone again. Gandhi walking down the road, in his usual garb, and carrying his stick, with a long train of followers.

1921: Gandhi sits on a mat outside a wall, propped against a cushion clad only in a loincloth, operating a spinning wheel; another man in a Punjabi suit kneels before him, possibly holding the wheel steady. A large crowd of women outside a house/building and in its foyer, watching a lady, possibly Kasturbai, Gandhi's wife, demonstrate on a spinning wheel. A young girl and boy sitting on a mat on the grass, fiddling with spools of cotton; they are dressed in a combination of Indian and Western clothes. This was the beginning of the homespun movement, a process of boycotting English cotton mills and manufacturing cotton goods using their own cotton.

Women in veils and saris: 'and the women were being freed. The veils were coming off their faces'. A line of women, processing through a field where tents have been set up; they salute together as they pass - an organised women's movement, like Girl Guides?

The entrance to the Madras Congress: a wooden gateway with a banner overhead that reads 'Welcome', another more elaborately constructed gateway in the background; flags and crowds. Gandhi alights from a train carriage, greets the people around him with hands pressed together, a book sandwiched between them. Gandhi walks down a path with a small entourage of political leaders, presumably; he is acknowledged by men, many young, along the side of the path; marquees and more crowds in the background.

1928: the Calcutta Congress: more marquees and crowds tightly packed together outdoors, including a large section of women in veils; in the foreground, a line of young men in turbans and what might be traditional Mughal-style costume, some playing the flute. At this time, India was boycotting British goods. Gandhi seated on the cushioned platform, with a bolster behind him, under a pavilion with coloured strips of fabric and streamers hanging above; he is surrounded by people, including a large section of women in the foreground; a flag, possibly Congress', is waved on a pole before him; they all listen to what he is saying, or simply watch. Jawaharlal Nehru stands watching, hands behind his back, in front of a crowd. An overhead shot of a teeming crowd; commentator claims that under no provocation would an Indian harm an Englishman, even in the midst of the boycott - this image of the gentle, spiritual Indian recurs throughout the film.

1930: Gandhi standing on an ornamental balcony under a small canvas canopy hung with light bulbs; it is evening; Gandhi speaks into a standing microphone, telling the unseen crowd about a letter he has written to Viceroy Lord Irwin complaining about the 'type of English rule that reduced them to political serfdom', a component of which was the British salt monopoly. Close upward-shot of Gandhi speaking animatedly into the microphone - Indians were deprived of the right to manufacture salt, and had to pay a tax on it. Gandhi speaking into the microphone, shot from a distance: he expresses the need for a conference to 'discuss these many wrongs', failing which he 'must try to point out to the British the evil that they do', by means of a non-violent march to the sea at Dandi where he would break the salt law.

A large colonial building - probably the administrative headquarters at Delhi - with a British? Flag flying from a domed tower: the Viceroy has rejected Gandhi's request for a conference. Gandhi sits on a mat on the floor, appearing to prepare for the salt march. 12 March 1930, 6.30 am: an open space bounded by huts and small houses: the silhouette of the 61-year-old Gandhi, in a loincloth and with walking stick, moving down the steps of a house as he sets out on the march. Various shots of Gandhi walking through the village/ashram alone, a handful of people look on. Gandhi, walking down an open path, through a field, now followed by a train of people - men, women, children - clad in white. Various shots of the group that accumulated around the original 79 who started the march. Some men walking along, beating drums, playing flutes, bearing flags. Marchers walking across a large bridge. Gandhi walking purposefully, his eyes to the ground, now surrounded by a throng of people. 'From all over India they came': more crowds moving towards and with Gandhi - we are told foreign journalists were flown in to report on 'this feeble yet far-reaching protest'.

Gandhi sits on a sheltered platform, spinning. The back view of Gandhi seated on another open-air platform, addressing hundreds of seated people in white, reiterating his creed of non-violence. More shots of large masses moving in one direction, which may or may not be actual footage of the salt march. 5 April: the sea at Dandi; an overhead shot of thousands? Milling around the beach and water. Gandhi jogs down a path, surrounded and followed by children and adults. Gandhi makes salt: close-up of a hand pouring a jug of sea water into one of three pans. A pan on a stove being heated and fanned as salt is distilled. An upward shot of Gandhi's silhouette, with others in the background, as he towels himself. Another shot of the 'thousands' at the beach. A train of women bearing jugs on their heads, moving towards the sea to make their own salt. A group of women and men crouch over a stack of fans in the sand; fans are taken by them.

Two British soldiers in uniform bend over and scrape together a mound of salt, confiscating it; two more soldiers watch, and some of the crowd look on helplessly. Two banks of a river; on the left, a large crowd of Indians, on the right a few soldiers armed and standing in the water, some throwing things down the river at the departing soldiers who have arrested Gandhi. There are worldwide protests. The interior of a packed chamber, probably a national assembly of sorts. An Indian man, probably a politician, addresses an outdoor gathering, speaking into a standing microphone on a podium. A gathering of Indian women, seated on the ground and watching something, probably a public meeting or rally. The protests grow out of hand: a crowd teems in a square in front of a large late-Victorian brick building and other colonial houses in the background, British policemen in white uniforms and bowler hats chase after/disperse Indians in the foreground. Various shots of soldiers and policemen, armed with riot clubs, assaulting and dispersing groups of protesting Indians, on the streets, in traffic, in and around colonial buildings. Commentator still claims that 'no hand was raised against the British' by the millions of protesters.

25 January 1931: the front of a newspaper: 'GANDHI-IRWIN AGREEMENT SIGNED'. More crowds marching in protest; we learn that Irwin has announced the end of the salt law and Gandhi's release. Camera pans across an elaborate (Mughal?) edifice: Indians stand on the roof and balconies, watching Gandhi, presumably, below. Gandhi sits on a cushioned platform, next to Congress leaders, probably, addressing a crowd.

Gandhi is selected to represent the Congress at the second Round Table Conference on constitutional change in London at the end of the year. A shot of him walking up the gangway of a large steamer, the Rajputana. On the ship, he plays with a lively baby, obviously delighted by the child, smiling at the camera.

A photograph of Gandhi at the second Round Table Conference: a large room with a long row of desks arranged perpendicular to a few other rows, large windows behind them; mainly British politicians are seen, Gandhi sits in his cloak on the left of the Chair, and next to a few Indian delegates, among whom is probably a prince.

The exterior of a brick building: several shots of Indian delegates from various parties/interest groups meeting their British counterparts, including a man who is possibly Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald in a bowler. Gandhi walks down the stairs and out the front door of a house/building, surrounded by officials in suits; London policemen line the steps and a group of onlookers is discernible behind them. Gandhi is driven off in the back of a motorcar on a street filled with people. Commentator alludes to the divisive nature of the talks (a reference to the demand for separate, race-based electorates by many Indian and British delegates).

More scenes of street riots/protests in India - the new Viceroy has pursued a particularly repressive policy. The backs of two women in saris, one of them Gandhi's wife Kasturbai, watching a passenger ship dock at the harbour. Shot of Kasturbai. Shot of Jawaharlal Nehru. Gandhi stands on deck, with other British and Indian passengers, looking at something in the distance. Gandhi's homecoming on a busy pathway: crowds, banners, flags (probably the Indian flag adopted by Congress in January 1930), open windows; Gandhi walks through it, greeting people; he is now called 'Bapu' (father) by many Indians.

Upon his return, Gandhi set about doing more work. Various shots of communities of Untouchables, 'part of the great Indian family' alienated by 'this strange custom' (ie caste), which Gandhi ignored in his quest to help them. A large car/van trundles down a dusty path by a river ; a small flag flutters in front. A man holding a typewritten page of the 'Harijan' newsletter - 'Harijan' meaning 'children of God' - and Gandhi's new name for the Untouchables. Gandhi outdoors, surrounded by ladies, presumably Untouchables, one of whom removes a garland from around his neck. Gandhi walks up some stairs, clutching his cloak, with a towel on his head, greeting young men in shirts on the way up. Alternate shots of Gandhi on the platform of a Congress meeting, probably, and the interior of the venue, filled with seated people; an Indian flag hangs on the wall behind the platform. We are told of Gandhi's campaign against 'the English treatment of the Harijan'. [Much of his work was aimed at uplift through education and spiritual improvement for both the upper and lower/outcastes, though, not so much the British.]

January 1932: more busy street scenes of India. A copy of the Bombay Telegraph: 'MAHATMA GANDHI ARRESTED'. Gandhi lies on a bed, swathed in sheets; he has grown a white moustache and is surrounded by people, a lady in a sari kneeling before him appears to be pleading with him to stop his fast [against the issue of the Communal Award by the British, which acknowledged Untouchables as a separate electorate, not mentioned in the documentary].

News of Gandhi's arrest and fast spread. A nearly empty street junction; several Indians scurry away as gas grenades are hurled at them, an example of the 'seething unrest throughout the land'. The camera pans across a large crowd of men in white, probably at a rally or meeting; we learn that the government then took legislative action to end untouchability, supposedly in response to public pressure. [The decision was more likely the outcome of talks between Gandhi and Dr Ambedkar, self-proclaimed political leader of the Untouchables, culminating in the Poona Pact, 1932] A large crowd surges forward as two large gates are pulled open and spill into a compound, illustrating, perhaps, what the commentator calls Gandhi's desire to free Untouchables from tradition as well, as legislation is not enough.

Gandhi walks through a small wooden gate, his arms round two women, one of whom may be Kasturbai; crowds and coconut trees in the background. Gandhi walks along a path followed by a train of people; men, women and children prostrate themselves by the side of the path as he passes, and rise, their palms together. Gandhi barely notices them, being deep in coversation with a man he walks next to.

The shadow on the ground of a spinning wheel. Shots of women working spinning wheels, in rows on the ground. An entire road lined on either side by women at spinning wheels. A small child plays with a reel of cotton. We are told of India's progress: 'the women had been given equality. The Untouchables had been freed.' The exterior of a palatial building, a domed roof, and airy, carved corridors. 'And the country and the people had a dignity they had never known.' Jawaharlal Nehru works at his own spinning wheel, seated on a rug on a well-polished floor indoors.

Gandhi walks along the beach with four women. A shot of a town set in a hillside, densely built with flat-roofed buildings. Women working in pairs outdoors, drawing water from wells using large wooden reels. Four women beating garments on blocks next to buckets of water as they clean their clothes. We learn that Gandhi, still dissatisfied and seeking answers 'to the enigmas that were embedded in the lives of his countrymen', quit Congress in 1934 and turned to the village as the essence of India as the answer.

Close-up of a window in a clay wall, decorated with two clay spinning wheels. An elderly lady in a sari, probably Kasturbai, walks through a wooden gate, past the side of an adobe hut to which the window belongs. Gandhi, sitting with Kasturbai, spins cotton in his home as part of his new simple lifestyle. The outside world continues to visit Gandhi: two men, probably Congress leaders, walk into the compound. Shots of them (among others, we are told) conferring with Gandhi and writing notes. Shots of Gandhi walking through the village; huts, washing on lines, palm trees. Gandhi at what's probably a village conference, seated with rows of men, doing his bit in his four-year-long fight for the villagers' 'communal rights'.

1938: with the threat of war to Britain, Gandhi re-enters politics; Gandhi seated on a carpeted platform, next to J. Nehru and other politicians. Gandhi seated at another Congress meeting outdoors, next to politicians like Nehru and Congress president Subhas Chandra Bose; a man holds an umbrella over his head behind him. Bose addressing an audience, emphasizing the need for a violent overthrow of British authority - which contradicted Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence. A Japanese? Drum being played to an Indian crowd [Bose did seek Japanese support in setting up the Indian National Army during the Second World War and was an ardent admirer of their accomplishments]. Gandhi, in a cloak, being helped down some steps, probably at a rally. Shots of children, possibly Indonesian (Javanese) in western-style clothes and sarongs, waving Japanese flags along the road. A rally in India - large crowds of people clap their hands in support of something, possibly Gandhi's exhortation to non-violence.

1939: the outbreak of World War Two: a Japanese? Politician stands before what may be a crowd; policemen stand in the background with gloves, hats and sashes. A man, probably in a Southeast Asian country (mosly under Japanese occupation from 1941), gives a Japanese soldier standing in a stationary vehicle, a package. A soldier, possibly European (Mussolini?), flanked by four others, salutes stiffly at a balcony, above which are draped two banners, one bearing the picture of a star/sun. A gathering in a field; a man in uniform, probably Bose, seen from the back, stands before a crowd; he throws his arms up and lets them drop again, the crowd follows. A large crowd of men and women raising their right arms in a sort of triumphal salute/gesture - the mixed racial composition of this group (Indian and quite a few Japanese or Chinese) suggests that this rally is not being held in India but in Japan or Southeast Asia (given the palm and coconut trees in the background), from which Bose operated during the Japanese Occupation (1941-45); this is used to illlustrate the extent of support for Bose's faster, more effective method of fighting for independence.

1942: Sir Stafford Cripps walks across a field outside a colonial building with J. Nehru and another politician, on his visit to India to discuss constitutional amendments with the Congress. Cripps and Gandhi talk in armchairs in a room. A large crowd sits outside. Cripps and Gandhi leave the building, flanked by Indian and British politicians/officials, Gandhi is wagging his finger and talking to the people around him. An overhead shot of large Hindi? Words chalked on a pavement, which people walk across; they presumably say 'Quit India' [Congress' ultimatum to the British at their 1942 congress]: more shots of unrest among large groups of people. Gandhi, like many others involved in the unrest, is taken to jail with Kasturbai. We learn that Kasturbai died in jail: a small monument - perhaps a font - to her. Close-up of the writing on the font, possibly in Gujarati or Hindi. People place wreathes of flowers over the font. Groups of men gather outside the jail, presumably, clapping in support of Gandhi.

A row of people, many in suits, one with a camera, lean across a barricade and strain to see Gandhi on his release from prison. Gandhi walks out unaided and smiling, greeting the people lined up on either side of the path; a group of British prison wardens? And men in suits follow behind.

Gandhi continues to work for a better world; he alights carefully from a train, aided by people around him. A motorcar pulls away from the railway station and the crowd, among whom are barefoot boys in shirts and shorts. Gandhi sits on the floor next to a Hindu altar, in front of an urn of flowers; a painting of a sacred bull and various statues of deities; people look on.

12 August 1946: the administrative headquarters in Delhi?. Jawaharlal Nehru talks to somebody, and probably reads an announcement; he has been commissioned to form a new Indian government. Nehru rides on horseback down a road, past foliage, followed by several people on foot. Nehru inspects a row of troops in khakis and with rifles from the new Indian army, with both British and Indian soldiers walking along; he is dressed in his trademark Punjabi suit. A Sikh in a pinstripe suit and turban places a garland round his neck. Gandhi walks through a crowd of Indian civilians, led by a British soldier, supported by two women in saris. Gandhi inside a train carriage as other passengers get in.

Gandhi, in seeking to redress the Hindu-Muslim problem, visits an 80% Muslim area; crowds stand on the road side and on roofs. A row of low wooden boats covered with wooden arcs wait on the river, behind a crowd of people. Gandhi is helped onto a boat. He stands at one end of the boat as two men punt it onto the river with poles. Various shots of Gandhi visiting villages in the area, speaking to locals, emerging from what looks like the archway of a mosque, as part of his 'pilgrimage of personal penance' and attempt to spread his message of communal love. Gandhi addresses various crowds; commentator points out that with the combined efforts of him and his diverse group of followers, Hindu-Muslim riots died down.

15August 1947: a crowd of thousands gathered in Delhi?. The Indian flag flies from the top of the building. A line of horsemen outside the building bearing flags; a red carpet rolled down the steps of the entrance: 'India was free'. Pakistan was granted independence as a separate Muslim state. Cameras pan across the interior of the Anglo-Indian conference chamber; Gandhi sits at a front desk. Delegates trailing out of the building, a fountain and pool of water in the foreground.

A large steamship filled with people; two Indian flags hang from the side, flanking a sole British flag; the British are leaving. A line of British troops march down the road, past a large, probably municipal, building. Overhead shot of British soldiers standing at the port. A line of soldiers, all bearing sacks on their shoulders, file up the gangway into the ship. The rope slides off the port. A shot of the ship, 'GEORGIC', flags streaming, people on deck. A small motorboat passes it, its Indian flag fluttering. An Indian brass band, in Western naval uniform, plays on shore. A platoon? Of Sikh soldiers, waving small hand-held flags, process down the street. Another shot of the Indian flag flapping in the wind. Various shots of the governmental headquarters at Delhi, lit up with decorations at night. A constructed figure of Gandhi, hunched over a walking stick, in silhouette against a rotating, lighted disc reminiscent of a spinning wheel; Gandhi himself was not present, having spent the day praying and fasting. Gandhi seated indoors, surrounded by people.

30 January 1948: 5.30 pm: Gandhi throws his cloak over himself, rises from the floor of the Birla house. He leaves the house, stick in hand, for his prayer meeting. Gandhi walking down the steps, his arms round two young ladies in saris. Commentator recounts how Gandhi was shot by a man who 'feared' his teachings.

A flame in the darkness. It is revealed to be burning on paper, which falls apart to reveal more darkness. Gandhi's head, visible amid the bier of flowers and cloth, as hands lay more flowers and prepare the body for cremation. Gandhi's bier moving slowly through jam-packed streets, two Indian flags in front; Nehru is one of those who lead the bier. Various shots of the crowds at the funeral procession. A burning pyre; thousands crowd around it.

A heap of ashes; a garland and a sole flower remain unburnt; soldiers and crowds look on in the background. Gandhi's ashes were taken to all continents and many part of India. A boat drifts down a calm river; the hill on the bank is packed. Nehru squats at the front of the boat, scattering ashes into the water. Close-up of Nehru's solemn face. Another shot of ashes being emptied into the river, this time from the steps leading into it. Waves in the sea, in the wake of a boat/ship. The United Nations flag fluttering in the wind; the sun can be seen shining through the fabric. A final shot of the sun shining through clouds, reflected in the sea.

END.


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