Meet the Hindustani Malcolm X
Looking for pulse-pounding excitement in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi.
In stark contrast, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, is played as a classic screen villain. The only thing missing is the eye patch. Partition was a massive human tragedy. My parents are from Bangladesh, a heavily Muslim country first carved out of India as part of Pakistan, and they lived through the (still-reverberating) ramifications. But partition wasn't a dastardly plot hatched by an oleaginous Anglophile. Indeed, some historians argue that "Pakistan" was a negotiating strategy gone wrong: Jinnah askedfor a Muslim state so he could gain leverage to protectthe interests of Muslims in a united India. He never expected Nehru to call his bluff. This Nehru was no saint. He was something a lot more interesting. When you consider that India and Pakistan had been at war three times before Gandhi was made, Attenborough's interpretation of partition takes on added significance.
Smart critics have exhaustively cataloged Gandhi's other errors and elisions, and I could go on. But there's something a little churlish about this. As directors go, Attenborough is insanely humble, acknowledging that he had to leave out large and important parts of Gandhi's story. Yes, Gandhi is a hagiography and not a nuanced, darkly shaded, or even very convincing portrait of an ambitious and deeply strange man. And as an account of the muddled, messy origins of Indian independence, the filmis guilty of historical malpractice. But taken as a black-and-white morality play, Gandhi is unmatched. Simplifications and all, this is the movie my parents wanted me to see as a child—and it's the movie I'd want my own (purely theoretical) children to see as well.
Reihan Salam is a writer in New York.