Gandhi and the Starfish


I watched one of my favourite movies last night… the 1982 spectacular ‘Gandhi‘.

Yep, it’s now 26 years old and given it won 8 Academy Awards it might be worth a look simply because it’s a good movie. It’s presented in pseudo documentary style and I presume, given it’s a Richard Attenborough movie, that’s it’s probably faithful, at least as they say at the beginning, faithful to the spirit of the man.

The thing that was most interesting was watching it through the lens of one of the books we rapped recently: Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom‘s “The Spider and the Starfish“.

In the movie, the British play the Spider and Gandhi and his followers the Starfish.

There’s a couple of really interesting points to notice.

  1. The British are completely outnumbered, some 100,000 versus the 300 million Indians, yet they control the country. Size is not everything.
  2. Gandhi undermines the British by tackling their points of control, namely the making of cloth and salt. He found out these weaknesses through his grassroots connections.
  3. Gandhi was not a traditional leader like a CEO or general. He didn’t tell people what to do or control their actions. He was a spiritual leader, he lead by example and others followed, not because he asked them to, because they wanted to.
  4. Gandhi stood for an ideology. His followers weren’t following him as much as they were following the ideal he was pursuing.
  5. It is funny to watch the reactions of the British throughout the movie. They are completely unaware of the forces at work undermining their role in India. At first they laugh it off. Then try to ignore it hoping the movement will go away. They even take some desperate actions trying to impose command and control. Finally, they concede victory. This could be the story of Napster and the Music Industry!
  6. Sadly, Gandhi is assassinated in the movie as in life. Fortunately, having inspired a Starfish organization, India became an independent nation despite his death.

The subplot in the movie is a further play of Spider versus Starfish. The Muslim leaders are at odds with Gandhi because they have a Spider mentality. They are portrayed as wanting to swap the British centralized control for their own. It causes a few problems in the movie, including the ultimate split between India and Pakistan. In real life this issue appears to be unresolved and may flare again in the next decade. Watch this space.

Re-read our RAP “Leaderful” and watch this movie for a fascinating insight into how Starfish can undermine Spiders.

Or at the least, grab some popcorn and enjoy an inspiring story. Ben Kingsley is stunning as Gandhi!

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