Ben Kingsley dons his dhoti (loincloth) in Richard Attenborough’s epic biopic about one of the greatest empathy masters about them all. The film is full of great empathic moments. We journey with Gandhi on a train when he returns to India after his years in South Africa – of course he insists on travelling third class, to really experience what poor Indians experience when they travel. He later sets up an ashram, and in order to ‘live the life of the poorest people’, we see him cleaning the latrines (a job normally left to Untouchables/Dalits), tending the goats and spinning cloth. As the film progresses, the complexities of Muslim-Hindu relations become apparent. Following violence between them, Gandhi – a devout Hindu – declares, ‘I am a Muslim. And a Hindu, and a Christian and a Jew.’ His message was that we need to empathise with our enemies, those whose views we might vehemently disagree with, if we are going to create a culture of tolerance and understanding.
Gandhi was well-known for his empathic thinking. He once said, ‘Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self is too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest man who you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him.’ In the film, you can really see this philosophy being played out in Gandhi’s approach to the art of living.
I watch this film at least once a year to remind of what it takes to be an empathic revolutionary.
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What about Gandhi's autobiography?
I love the film, but don't forget Gandhi's superb An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth. OK, it hasn't got a lot of good jokes in it, but it's compelling stuff. And it's particularly good on Gandhi's conversation into an empathic thinker and actor during his time working as a lawyer in South Africa. Something left out of the film, for instance, was his work as a nurse in South African during the Boer Wars.
I havent seen this film since
I havent seen this film since it was first released, but it gave me a moral and political education. An empathetic classic.