When two great minds strike an intense conversation it often leads to great outcomes. On one such occasion, it led to a timeless classic movie. What happened when Chaplin met Gandhi?

The decade-long Great Depression began in the United States in 1929 and led to an economic meltdown all over the world. Unemployment across sectors peaked. Considering the socio-economic situation, it was a strange time to introduce automation in the heavy machine industry.

One of the rare things to lighten the gloom around this time was ‘City Lights’. Chaplin went to London for the promotion of his film and met many formidable figures including John Maynard Keynes, Bernard Shaw, and Winston Churchill.

Gandhi was in London back then to attend the Second Round Table Conference. When Chaplin was asked if he would like to meet him too, he grabbed the opportunity, much to the disliking of the revered British political personalities. 

Chaplin had a deep admiration for Gandhi for his political astuteness and iron will. However, Gandhi knew very little of Chaplin , having seen only 2 films during the entirety of his life till then (none of which were Chaplin’s).

When he was made aware of Chaplin’s body of work, he agreed to meet him, and the meeting was set at a humble little house in the slum district off the East India Dock Road in London.

Chaplin imagined this moment a million times in his mind but when it finally arrived, he felt short of words, unable to find the appropriate topic for a conversation starter.

“Naturally I am in sympathy with India’s aspirations and struggle for freedom, nonetheless, I am somewhat confused by your abhorrence of machinery.”

– Chaplin stated from his preconceived notion that if machines were to be used in the altruistic sense, then it would release people from slavery and give them shorter hours of labour which in turn help them to enjoy life.

Mahatma initially smiled and nodded as if he agreed to Chaplin’s point of view but as he responded back, Chaplin got a lucid lesson on why he might have been wrong all this time.

“…Machinery in the past has made us dependent on England, and the only way we can rid ourselves of that dependence is to boycott all goods made by machinery.” – he continued.

“…India has a different climate from England; and her habits and wants are different. In England the cold weather necessitates arduous industry and an involved economy. You need the industry of eating utensils; we use our fingers. And so it translates to manifold differences.”

It was an eye opener for Chaplin. As he later embarked on an 18-month long world tour, he challenged his own preconceived idea about industrial automation and consulted many economic theories and its subsequent social impact.

He finally arrived at the conclusion that “Machinery should benefit mankind. It should not spell tragedy and throw it out of work.”. His conclusion subsequently reflected on his next work. #OTD 87 years ago, ‘Modern Times’ was released worldwide.

Did the Mahatma ever manage to see how he influenced Chaplin’s satirical genius? We don’t know. But suffice to say that if it weren’t for that brief conversation, Chaplin’s influence on people, for once, may have been misdirected.




Image attributes:

  • Photo by Breve Storia del Cinema – https://www.flickr.com/photos/116153022@N02/15470568999/
  • The Most Unusual Dynamic Duo — Comedian & a Political Leader by Marialaa. https://medium.com/the-collector/gandhi-was-the-reason-why-charlie-chaplin-advanced-his-movie-career-e03ba67a8c43
  • Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother depicts destitute pea pickers in California by Dorothea Lange, From Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
  • Theatrical release poster for Charlie Chaplin’s 1931 film City Lights by Alvan Hadley, From Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
  • The Second Round Table Conference (September 7, 1931), From Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
  • Original poster for Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 film Modern Times, From Wikimedia Commons Public Domain