Yesterday I went along to a showing of Deepak Verma’s Mumbai Charlie in Somerset House. A young businessman, uncomfortably thrust into a senior role in the family business, has a car crash en route to a make-or-break business meeting. Dazed and confused, he is rescued by a cult of Charlie Chaplin worshippers who help him find his true (anti-corporate) self. “Greed has poisoned men’s souls” reads a cult member from Chaplin’s closing speech in The Great Dictator. The man is saved from the capitalist machine. I’m not sure what this would mean for Indian (or world) growth rates if the cult went viral …
[Did you know that Chaplin met Ghandi in 1931 in Newham, East London. Apparently the former was stage struck, and the latter looked a little perplexed as to what all the fuss was about.]
It was a short film and it felt odd to watch a Mumbai skit in the bowels of Somerset House. In the quad tourists were ice skating. Charlie Chaplin has never done it for me – as a child I found his silent films clownish and dull, and I never went back for more. But Mumbai Charlie made me google The Great Dictator (released October 1940) and watch Chaplin give his closing speech. Chaplin wrote, produced, directed and starred in the film. Not for the first time I am embarrassed by my ignorance. For more on the film, and the plot, click here. Below is a transcript of Chaplin’s final speech, and closing lines to Hannah, his girl.
Remember, it is 1940. It makes me think (i) how extraordinarily bleak the outlook was then, and how solvable today’s problems look in comparison and (ii) that humanity has done pretty well since 1945, in terms of finding ways to co-operate, spread wealth, and widen access to freedom and security. Masses left to do, but steady progress if one is inclined to have faith, and see the cup half full. Unmolested, mankind is peaceful and well intentioned.
I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone, if possible, Jew, gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness — not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another.
In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.
The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood, for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world — millions of despairing men, women and little children — victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say — do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed — the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people and so long as men die, liberty will never perish.
Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes — men who despise you — enslave you — who regiment your lives — tell you what to do — what to think or what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men — machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate — the unloved and the unnatural!
Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the 17th Chapter of St. Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” — not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power — the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.
Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power! Let us all unite! Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth the future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie! They do not fulfill their promise; they never will. Dictators free themselves, but they enslave the people! Now, let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.
Soldiers! In the name of democracy, let us all unite!
Hannah, can you hear me? Wherever you are, look up, Hannah. The clouds are lifting. The sun is breaking through. We are coming out of the darkness into the light. We are coming into a new world, a kindlier world, where men will rise above their hate, their greed and brutality. Look up, Hannah. The soul of man has been given wings, and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow — into the light of hope, into the future, the glorious future that belongs to you, to me and to all of us. Look up, Hannah. Look up.