an epic film by SHYAM BENEGAL
OF THE MAHATMA
1893: A ship lies anchored in Durban harbour, on board is a young, briefless lawyer named Mohandas
Gandhi. The journey he has undertaken to South Africa brings him into contact with a society fraught with
racial inequalities and injustices. The sight of fellow humans suffering under an inhumane system of
government, has a profound effect on Gandhi and ultimately changes the course of his life.
"Apprenticeship" explores the time Gandhi spent in South Africa, a total of 21 years, and the transformation
that took place in his life. This period in South African history was characterised by growing discontent
amongst the Indian community in reaction to a number of bills being passed by government (Indian
Franchise Bill / Black Act) and also the emergence of passive resistance amongst Indians. Gandhi found a
natural empathy with these people and took on their cause. Despite the indignity of being branded
a troublemaker, cast into prison on more than one occasion, and often mistreated, he transcended hatred
and self pity - drawing on an inner strength to challenge these evils in a non-violent fashion.
During his time in South Africa. Gandhi was introduced to the writings of John Ruskin (English writer, critic,
artist) and fully embraced his philosophy "The life of the tiller of the soil and weaver of cloth is worth living
... Whatever the labour: that of the barrister or the scavenger, is equal in value ...All labour is equal, all men
and women are equal ... the good of the individual is contained in the good of all''.
Gandhi set about removing all worldly possessions from his life living more and more the life of a simple
man. He even went so far as to cease to have sexual relations with his wife, in his quest to detach himself
from all forms of desire, believing that in order for him to help those suffering souls around him, he had to be
capable of taking on their burden of pain. Gandhi had started to embrace the qualities of humility and
understanding of others' needs that were to become synonymous with him.
It was after the death of one of his followers at the hands of government troops during the 1913 strike,
that Gandhi adopted the dress of the Tamil workers (white kurta and white angavastram), he also shaved
his head as a token of solidarity with all those people everywhere burdened by sorrow. At the conclusion of
his stay in South Africa. Gandhi had not only provided a platform from which grievances could be heard,
but had demonstrated the power of non- violent protest in the protection of human dignity.
His period spent in South Africa, was for Gandhi, a critical time for growth and preparation, that later
empowered him to take on the might of the British Empire and ultimately become 'The Father of the Nation".