Monday, August 25, 2014

Remembering Richard Attenborough

My first visit to a movie was a mixed experience. It was unbelievably exciting, but I was pretty badly sick those days. Halfway through the movie, I had to leave due to an unending cough, exacerbated undoubtedly by the air conditioned environment. Furthermore, I was admitted to the hospital the very next day. Nevertheless, I returned to watch and enjoy the full movie after I had recovered some days later.

As I remember, it was the day when that particular movie opened in Sri Lankan theaters. Despite the illness I was excited by it all, the sounds that seemed to come out of within yourself and the huge screen. It was a nice welcome to the movie world. It was a marvelous welcome to the world of the dinosaurs. The movie was, obviously, Jurassic Park.

It was perhaps the best introduction a young kid could get of the Western movies, of Steven Spielberg and of Richard Attenborough. For some reason, I remembered the old white clad gentleman, the owner of Jurassic Park, and how he guided Dr. Alan Grant and the visitors around the theme park. The owner was named John Hammond, played by Richard Attenborough.
Attenborough as John Hammond in Jurassic Park (Pic from

Later on, I enjoyed some of Attenborough’s other movies. I am not fond of movies in general. Nevertheless, as a lover of World War II movies, I watched both ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘A Bridge Too Far’ several times each. For me, Attenborough was being his best in his role as the mastermind of the Great Escape. Perhaps it is because I have not watched much of the movies he was starring in. But for me, it was one of the best roles in a movie I saw. Perhaps he was successful in his roles as an Air Force Squadron Leader because of his service in the Royal Air Force during the war.

The movie ‘A Bridge Too Far’ directed by Attenborough was released 14 years after ‘The Great Escape’, in 1977. Following the story of Operation Market Garden and its failure to capture Arnhem Bridge, it has perhaps one of the best paratroopers landing scene in a movie at least up to that time. It meticulously follows all aspects of the battle and the lives of the people involved in it. It struck me as a depiction of human catastrophe in war, on military and especially the civilian people.

Attenborough was perhaps best remembered for directing Gandhi, which won eight Academy Awards, including the Best Director and Best Picture. The movie begins at a point when Gandhi was 24, when he was pushed out of a South African train for being in a ‘whites only’ compartment, and ends with his funeral.

The defining moment for me in this movie was when Gandhi ended his fast unto death after post-partition violence had suddenly ended. The movie shows vividly how the city which had seen so violent had gone in to a deathly silence, hoping that Bapu would end his fast. This is perhaps the best manifestation of the power of non-violence in the movie.

Attenborough would return to an anti-apartheid theme of much greater scale in his drama ‘Cry Freedom’ on the life of Black Consciousness Movement founder Steve Biko, who died in police custody. The movie has a dramatic scene of Biko’s funeral where thousands sing “Nkosi Sikelel’ iArfica” (God Bless Africa) and its epilogue displays a long list of anti-apartheid activists (including Biko), who died under suspicious circumstances while imprisoned by the government. A few months before the film's release, the Apartheid government stopped releasing the false and foolish "official explanations" for deaths in custody.
Although not the 'real' one, this is a good reminder

Even though two decades had passed after I was welcomed to Jurassic Park by Attenborough (Hammond), I remembered him again whenever I would read or see something on the movie. I remembered him when I entered through the gigantic (to my scale) gate of the Jurassic Park at Universal Studios, Singapore and listened to the Jurassic Park theme song of John Williams while I was there.

I remembered my first day to a movie today, when I heard Richard of Attenborough’s death, just days before his 91st birthday. My Jurassic Park would be not the same anymore.

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