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Mahatma Gandhi: 20th Century Prophet
Star of India
New York opening: 28 Apr 1953
Duration (in mins):
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In Jan 1948, the flag of the United Nations is lowered to half-staff in honor of Mohandas K. Gandhi, the Indian leader known as Mahatma, which is Sanskrit for "a great soul." Many historians have called him the most powerful man of the twentieth century. Gandhi, who was born in Porbunder, India on 2 Oct 1869, studies law in England, where he becomes familiar with texts that will greatly influence his life, the
--the book of books--and Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount.” Gandhi particularly comes to admire one tenant of the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” Gandhi and his wife Kasturba move to South Africa, where he becomes a successful lawyer, often fighting against discrimination. After becoming famous for his espousal of non-violence, Gandhi returns to India in 1915. Now preferring to wear the simple, loincloth garment that will become his trademark, Gandhi preaches to large crowds, who are drawn to his non-violent message. He soon begins the Satyagraha Ashram for followers who embrace his philosophy. Troubles between Indians and the British, who have ruled India since the mid-eighteenth century, result in the death of over 300 non-violent protesters. Gandhi is jailed by the British, but sends words of peace to his followers. In 1925, Gandhi establishes the All-India Spinners’ Association and encourages a “home spinning” movement, intended to free Indians from reliance upon foreign-produced cloth. Gandhi feels that only by contemplation and participation in simple tasks such as spinning cloth, can man achieve true peace. Throughout the 1920s, Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru gather with other Indian leaders, attempting to plot out eventual self-rule through the granting of Dominion Status by Great Britain. In 1930, in protest of the British government’s tax on salt, Gandhi, accompanied by seventy-nine of his followers, begins a walk to the sea. Along the way, tens of thousands join the march. On 5 Apr 1930, when Gandhi and his followers reach Dandi, on the coast, he is the first man to take water from the sea to make salt, but others quickly follow suit. Over French and American protests, Gandhi is imprisoned by the British for violating laws against making salt. Soon Nehru and other Indian leaders are also arrested. More than 100,000 are eventually imprisoned, all following Gandhi’s philosophy, “reject the act but do not harm the man.” In Jan 1931, all are released after the British acquiesce and allow Indians to distill salt. Gandhi is the only Indian leader invited to England for a round table conference to discuss Dominion Status for India. He travels to England, refusing all offers of luxurious accommodations, and continues his spinning. Although he is mobbed by crowds of admirers, results of the conference are not promising, and Gandhi returns home after visiting other countries in Europe. Now affectionately called “Baba,” father, by his followers, Gandhi is again arrested after embracing the "untouchables," who are not Hindi. He goes on a six-day fast, which is only broken when Indians, who fear he is near death, embrace the untouchables. Throughout the 1930s, people from around the world flock to see Gandhi. When Britain enters the war in 1939, Gandhi supports the British, fearing Nazi and Japanese aggression. In 1943, Gandhi is again arrested after the British refuse to discuss independence until after the war, and the slogan “Quit India” becomes popular throughout the country. By 1944, Kasturba, Gandhi’s wife of sixty-two years, has died and he has become very frail. After the war, Gandhi is willing to accept British terms of independence, but clashes between Hindi and Muslims violently escalate. Hoping to stop the killing, Gandhi goes to the Muslims. Eventually, the riots stop and Muslims are granted a separate state, Pakistan, but many Hindi are against the separate state. In early 1948, a newly independent India establishes a constitution along American and Swiss models, with a new flag featuring a spinning wheel. Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India, helps with the transition, enabling the British to leave as friends, rather than enemies. Hoping to unite his divided people, Gandhi goes on a final fast. On Friday, 30 Jan 1948, Gandhi is shot to death while walking to a meeting of the country’s leaders. His death leads to a deep mourning in India. His body is burned for fourteen hours and his ashes are placed in urns that are sent throughout India and the world. In India, an urn placed at the meeting of the rivers is poured into the water as planes drop rose petals overhead.
American Academy of Asian Studies
Stanley Neal Productions, Inc.
A Louis Gainsborough Film
United Artists Corp.
English in foreign countries
World War II
The opening title card of the viewed print read: "Alan Twyman Presents a Louis Gainsborough Film Star of India (1953)
Mahatma Gandhi: Twentieth Century Prophet
." The viewed print also included the words "Restored Version" and bore a 1954 copyright statement for Louis Gainsborough, but the film is not included in the copyright catalog. Credits on the viewed print may have been altered from the original release as neither reviews nor news items mention Twyman.
As described in the film, Mohandas K. Gandhi, known primarily as Mahatma Gandhi after his return to India from South Africa (1869--1948) was one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century. Through use of newsreel footage narrated by prominent journalist Quentin Reynolds, the documentary follows Gandhi's public life from the early 1920s through his assassination in Jan 1948.
Contemporary news items and reviews reveal the following information about the production: Over 10,000 feet of newsreel footage was collected for the film by A. K. Chettiar, who turned it over to the American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco, CA. A
news item noted that the footage had been "discovered by the American Academy of Asian Studies, a non-profit graduate school" and that Gainsborough, president of the Academy, had said "apparently much of the film had been buried underground during the British reign in India." The Academy sponsored the film's production.
news items in 1951 indicated that British producer Gabriel Pascal was preparing a biographical film on Gandhi, as was producer Ken McEldowney, president of Oriental-International Pictures. Neither of these productions was made, and neither was related to the 1953 documentary. A 1963 Twentieth Century-Fox release,
Nine Hours to Rama
, which was directed by Mark Robson and starred Horst Buchholf, centers on the assassination of Gandhi, although Gandhi himself is not the center of that film. A British-Indian picture entitled
was produced and directed by Richard Attenborough in 1982. That film won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actor for Ben Kingsley, who played the title role.
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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the
AFI Catalog of Feature Films
and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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