Watch Gandhi Talk in His First Filmed Interview (1947)

The Gand­hi of his­to­ry doesn’t line up with the Gand­hi of leg­end, just as the beat­i­fied Moth­er Tere­sa presents a very dif­fer­ent pic­ture in cer­tain astute crit­ics’ esti­ma­tion. But as with most saints, ancient and mod­ern, peo­ple tend to ignore Gandhi’s many con­tra­dic­tions and trou­bling­ly racist and casteist views. He comes to us more as myth and mar­tyr than deeply flawed human indi­vid­ual. An indis­pens­able part of the myth­mak­ing, Richard Attenborough’s 1982 biopic, Gand­hi, may be “over-san­i­tized,” as The Guardian writes, but Ben Kingsley’s per­for­mance as the anti-colo­nial leader is gen­uine­ly “sub­lime” in his evo­ca­tion of Gandhi’s “inten­si­ty… wit and even the dis­tinc­tive, deter­mined walk.” It’s these per­son­al qualities—and of course Gandhi’s defeat of the largest empire on the plan­et with non­vi­o­lent action and a spir­i­tu­al phi­los­o­phy—that con­tin­ue to inspire move­ments for jus­tice and civ­il rights.

We see a lit­tle of that deter­mined walk in the short news­reel inter­view above, the very first “talk­ing pic­ture” made of Gand­hi, and we also hear his inten­si­ty and wit, though much sub­dued by his phys­i­cal frailty after years of fast­ing. Tak­en in 1947 by Fox Movi­etone News, the film marks a piv­otal peri­od in the Indi­an leader’s life. Very short­ly after this Par­lia­ment passed the Indi­an Inde­pen­dence Act. That year also marked the start of a bloody new strug­gle, insti­gat­ed by anoth­er colo­nial inter­ven­tion, as the British par­ti­tioned India into two war­ring coun­tries, an act so poignant­ly dra­ma­tized in Salmon Rushdie’s Midnight’s Chil­dren.

This year of tur­moil was also Gandhi’s last; he was assas­si­nat­ed in 1948 by a Hin­du nation­al­ist who accused him of sid­ing with Pak­istan. In the inter­view, we hear what we might think of as some of Gandhi’s final pub­lic pro­nounce­ments on such sub­jects as child mar­riage, pro­hi­bi­tion, his deeply held con­vic­tions about an authen­tic Indi­an cul­tur­al iden­ti­ty, and the lengths that he would go for his country’s inde­pen­dence. At the end of the short inter­view, the Amer­i­can reporter asks Gand­hi, pre­scient­ly, “would you be pre­pared to die in the cause of India’s Inde­pen­dence?” to which Gand­hi replies, “this is a bad ques­tion.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Tol­stoy and Gand­hi Exchange Let­ters: Two Thinkers’ Quest for Gen­tle­ness, Humil­i­ty & Love (1909)

Albert Ein­stein Express­es His Admi­ra­tion for Mahat­ma Gand­hi, in Let­ter and Audio

Hear Gandhi’s Famous Speech on the Exis­tence of God (1931)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Ramona says:

    If you read the basis for Roy’s alle­ga­tions they are pret­ty weak. Peo­ple should read them before pass­ing judg­ment. All the stuff about “kef­firs” hap­pened in his ear­ly years in South Africa when he was a prac­tic­ing lawyer with an Eng­lish edu­ca­tion, and don’t seem like any­thing par­tic­u­lar­ly ugly in the con­text of the time. It’s unfair to apply a stan­dard of saint­li­ness or wis­dom at a point when he was just begin­ning his spir­i­tu­al path. I think this reflects poor­ly on Roy, who seems to have an axe to grind.

  • RS Chaufullwec says:

    You are right.

    The Times of India arti­cle itself quotes anoth­er pro­fes­sor who refutes Ms Roy:

    “The ear­ly Gand­hi was not a rad­i­cal per­son­al­i­ty. He evolved. The com­ment that he made about black pris­on­ers was due to his own expe­ri­ence of threat of sodomy by inmates while he was jail,”

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