Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra ModiPhoto | PTI

John Hammond of Jurassic Park: maker of Gandhi

Modi's latest controversy was for having said that the world did not know who Gandhi was before Richard Attenborough’s film ‘Gandhi’ was released in 1982.

During the just concluded poll campaign Prime Minister Narendra Modi must have created a sort of record of giving interviews to the newspapers and the news channels. While these interviews made an impact or not would be known when the results are out. However, many of these interviews did stir controversies.

The last being the Opposition pouncing on him for having said that the world did not know who Gandhi was before Richard Attenborough’s film ‘Gandhi’ was released in 1982.

For us living in Delhi and other parts of the country, Mahatma Gandhi is a well-known name with almost all the urban centres having a road named after the father of the nation – the MG Roads. Mahatma’s cremation ground – Rajghat is also the Zero milepost for Delhi.

A Zero milepost is the origination point for measuring distances in a jurisdiction or on a route. Like there is Zero Milestone, a zero mile marker monument in the capital of the United States, Washington.In

Nagpur too, we have a Zero Milestone monument, built by the British, to mark the centermost point of the colonial India.

Prime Minister’s context was to admonish the state policy under the governments before him for their failure to ‘market’ our heritage. This was with the reference to the absence of the opposition parties at the consecration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya in January this year.

The Prime Minister may be faulted for having given a wrong example but it’s also true that we largely failed to ‘market’ our heritage they way Modi has done be it by the way building of the Statue of Unity in Gujarat in the memory of Sardar Patel or redevelopment of Varanasi.

However, the controversy started by the Prime Minister would for certain revive interest in the film ‘Gandhi’, large parts of which were shot in the national Capital and its makers. Many in the present generation would recall Attenborough for his role as John Hammond, the eccentric developer in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993) and the film’s sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997).

Attenborough passed away in August 2014 at the ripe age of 90. Prime Minister Modi’s reference to his film would revive him in the memory of generations of Indians for his critically-acclaimed biopic on Mahatma Gandhi. The magnetic personality of the father of the nation and the extra-ordinary depiction on screen by Ben Kinsley under the baton of Attenborough would remain his best contribution to the world of films despite the portrayal of John Hammond on Spielberg’s films.

Gandhi was released New Delhi on November 30, 1982, and a few days later on 3 December in the United Kingdom, and on 6 December in the United States of America. The film had a Royal premiere in the UK on 2 December, 1982 at the Odeon Leicester Square in London. It was attended by King (then Prince of Wales), Charles and his then wife Princess Diana.

Attenborough’s tryst with Gandhi started years earlier when he managed to meet then PM Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira through a common friend, Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of British Empire in India. Attenborough was inspired to make the film by Motilal Kothari, a Gandhian bureaucrat working at the Indian High Commission in London.

No wonder Attenborough dedicated Gandhi to Kothari, Mountbatten and Nehru. Before agreeing to make the film, Attenborough read Louis Fischer’s biography of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

The project which was conceived in the early 1960s finally went to floors in 1980 with liberal funding from National Film Development Corporation, which paid $10 million to meet the shortfall in budget.

There is no doubt, and to an extent endorsing Prime Minister Modi’s perception, that it brought Mahatma back into our lives as he had started to fade from the nation’s memory. At the same time Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi cannot be blamed, as they facilitated the making of this film which went on to win 11 Academy Award nominations and won eight.

Sidharth Mishra

Author and president, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice

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