Gandhi is a multi award winning biopic set around the life of Mohandas Gandhi and the formation of an independent India. The film opens with Gandhi’s final few moments in 1948 and then goes back to South Africa in 1893 when a fresh faced, idealistic and well educated Gandhi arrives as a newly qualified lawyer. His treatment in one of the most despicably racist countries on the planet helps to formulate his ideals and it isn’t long before the young lawyer is standing up to the authorities for the rights of South Africa’s small Indian population. Throughout his life Gandhi takes a stand on human rights and once back in his homeland he sets about pushing India towards independence against a stern and unmoving British regime.
I saw this movie a couple of years ago and before I did I have to be honest and say that I knew very little about Gandhi’s life. The film changed my view of Gandhi from the little guy in a cloth who preached about peace towards a greater understanding of who he was, what he stood for and what he means for so many people, not only in India but around the world. The film is in a word spectacular and features a terrific story of true life struggle and determination which is populated by great characters and a fantastic central performance.
The film is a behemoth in both length and scope. Clocking in at over three hours, it is the sort of film which demands two sittings to get through but it is thoroughly worth it. On both of my viewings, despite the length, I never felt as though scenes could be trimmed or removed and if anything I’d have liked to have seen more. A slight problem with the film is it occasionally feels as though it is stuck between two camps. On the one hand you have the life story of Gandhi whereas on the other hand you have the formation of an independent India and Pakistan. Although there is an enormous amount of crossover between the two stories, I occasionally felt as though I was being a little short changed by each. Another small gripe I have is with the all too frequent mentions of religious tension. For the historically minded this is obviously a foretelling of the future tensions between Hindus and Muslims which run as an undercurrent through most of the film but I felt as though it was bought up far too often, almost as though to remind the audience in case they forgot about it when it bubbled over in the final hour.
Besides those small problems, Gandhi is an absolutely brilliant film. Its story is engaging and makes you feel angry. It is one of those films, like The Wind that Shakes the Barley, which makes me feel ashamed to be British. We don’t come out of the film very well at all and despite being a British production the film doesn’t hold back on its telling of British cruelty and atrocities. The film depicts the appalling Jallianwala Bagh massacre in graphic detail and it’s a real turning point for the movie. It’s also an event of which I had no prior knowledge before seeing the movie despite my interest in history. Including it as a reminder as well as a plot device is a decision I wholeheartedly support. The film’s plot feels all encompassing and vast but it is often kept nicely simple in order to aid those of us without knowledge of International Relations and religious politics. As well as being entertaining and thought provoking, it is also very informative.
The performances are top notch and Ben Kingsley is sublime in the title role. He inhabits it with the sort of depth you rarely see and convincingly takes Gandhi from a bright twenty-four year old to a withered seventy-eight year old, through changes in location, era and attitudes and does all of this while still presenting a recognisable version of a well known public figure. It is amongst the most astounding biographical performances I’ve ever seen. I have actually seen few better performances and Kingley’s reminded me of the sort that Robert De Niro and Daniel Day-Lewis are capable of producing at their best. Incidentally, Daniel Day-Lewis has a small part in the film as a man who insults Gandhi in South Africa. Rohini Hattangadi plays Mrs. Kasturba Gandhi and is also excellent, travelling with her husband through his life, always at his side as he changes the world. I’d like to have seen more of their life together but what we did see of her was moving. The film is littered with great actors providing fantastic performances but the cast list is so long, I haven’t the time nor space to mention them all individually. It should also be noted that as well as a large principle cast, the film is also said to hold the world record for the largest number of extras used. Around 300,000 people are seen on screen for Gandhi’s funeral, mirroring the real life spectacle. There are inaudibly large crowds gathered for many other scenes too.
The film’s Direction is what I’d call measured and safe. It has a sort of timeless quality to it and isn’t flashy but lets the story and beautiful landscapes do its talking. Richard Attenborough won a well deserved Oscar for his efforts and the sheer scale is mightily impressive but it is the story and performances which stand out. The music is typically Indian and sounds lovely. I personally believe no instrument in the world is capable of making such pleasing music as the Sitar so I’d be happy to listen to the music from Gandhi under any circumstances. Gandhi is the sort of film which comes along every few years which everyone should see both for their own education and entertainment. It is engaging, thought provoking and interesting and features one of the greatest all time performances. It barely puts a foot wrong and is a beast of a project which came together to form a beauty of a movie.
- The film was nominated for 11 Oscars, winning 8 including Best Picture, Actor, Director, Editing and Original Screenplay.
- Although 300,000 people appeared in the funeral scene, only 94,560 were paid. The rest just turned up. Eleven crews shot 20,000 feet of film for the sequence which was edited down to just 125 seconds.
- Bernard Hill has a small role and has appeared in Oscar winning movies in each of the last three decades. He was the Captain in Titanic and Theoden in Return of the King.