The following is a review of two movies which have some thread of commonality running through them. The review was initially titled Rev. Ian Charleson's Oscar winners
The Academy awards for best motion picture for the years 1981 and 1982 went to two period movies which were more similar than was warranted by the subjects they were dealing with. The movies we’re talking about are Chariots of Fire (1981) and Gandhi (1982).
Chariots of Fire, should you choose to watch it as a sports movie, is in the old mould. It tells the story of two British athletes who participate in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Harold Abraham (Ben Cross) is a Jewish Cambridge student who faces anti-semitism and seeks achievement on the running track to rise above being discriminated against for his religion. Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) is a Scottish missionary who runs because he feels god’s pleasure when he does. The narration, which brings out the reasons these young men have for running, is one of the most finely crafted in cinema. It is perhaps these motivating factors and the way it is shown on screen that probably sets this movie apart from any other sports film. The theme of running solely for divine pleasure, or even a broader theme a movie depicting divine pleasure as a legitimate motivating factor for its protagonist is quite unique. The beauty of contrasting Liddell with Abraham, and depicting both favourably, ensures that one can empathize with both without having to buy into their beliefs.
The film takes us through the several trials and tribulations that they face in the course of their attempt to qualify, participate, and win a medal at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Harold engages a coach to help him run faster and stands up to his college masters when they chastise him for the same. Eric Liddell first encounters some opposition within his own family and his medal hopes are in jeopardy when the scheduling of events brings his participation in conflict with his religious beliefs. The eventual victory of both men was predictable and the cinematic depiction of the races would not have added much to the movie if it weren’t for a superlative background score by Vangelis.
Gandhi depicts the life of Mahatma Gandhi from the time he’s thrown out of a railway carriage in Pietmaritzburg till his demise. Considering that this review is written for a primarily Indian audience I won’t even bother outlining the plot. The gradual development and change of Gandhi from a suit wearing lawyer to a “half naked fakir” is one that that our textbooks and eulogies in popular culture haven’t brought out very well but where the film (which is acknowledged as having been rigorously researched) does very well. The gradual change in clothes is accompanied by a subtle change in Gandhi’s thought and beliefs and easy to miss if one gets caught up in the immensely compelling story. The movie features several actors who are cast in roles eerily similar to hit roles they have essayed elsewhere. We’re not talking about character actors who have been typecast (Richard Vernon playing Governor of Bihar) but even ones like Nigel Hawthorne (The bureaucrat Humphrey Appleby from Yes Minister, playing Kinnoch, a bureaucrat here) and of course Ian Charleson. Charleson plays Deenabandhu Charles Freer Andrews who was a priest of the Church of England. His roles in the two movies are not only similar in that they are both men of god but also in mannerisms, attitude, devotion and general Rahul Dravidness. The purity of the men shines through in a way that has become uncommon among protagonists since the advent of the age of the antihero. Indeed a protagonist whose morals are ambiguous is today not considered an antihero but a dyed in the wool chocolate boy.
The similarities between the movies too are hard to miss. Both films, released within a year of each other, are set roughly in the same period (Although Gandhi covers a far greater number of years). The two movies are set on different continents (with Gandhi spanning two) but within the same empire and this fact is not merely incidental to the plot because the protagonists of both movies take on the empire in their own different ways for their own different reasons. At the risk of repeating oneself both movies show the main men as incorruptibly pure. Both are biopics after their own fashion and tell the tales which are already well known to the world and as is the case with most good biopics the magic is as much in the telling as in the tale itself.I would like to list Gandhi as a must view for every member of the legal fraternity because while the father of nation wouldn’t find himself in many lists of “Greatest Indian Lawyers” he would top most lists of “Greatest Indians who were Lawyers” thus serving as a constant reminder that while it is desirable to aspire for greatness in law, it is nobler to aspire for greatness as a human being.