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GANDHI(director: Richard Attenborough; screenwriter: John Briley; cinematographers: Ronnie Taylor/Billy Williams; editor: John Bloom; music: Ravi Shankar; cast: Ben Kingsley (Mohandas Gandhi), Candice Bergen (Margaret Bourke-White), Edward Fox (Gen. Reginald Dyer), John Gielgud (Lord Irwin), Trevor Howard (Judge Broomfield), John Mills (Lord Chelmsford), Athol Fugard (Smuts), Martin Sheen (Walker), Ian Charleson (Charlie Andrews), Roshan Seth (Nehru), Geraldine James (Mirabehn), Rohini Hattan (Mrs. Gandhi), Alyque Padamsee (Mohammed Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan); Runtime: 188; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Richard Attenborough; Sony Pictures Releasing; 1982-UK)
“Attenborough’s crowning achievement as a director.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Epic film, with great mob scenes, on the life of the Hindu Mohandas K Gandhi (Ben Kingsley, half Indian actor), the Indian-born British barrister who became a revolutionary practicing what he called Satyagraha, non-violent passive resistance, and because of his leadership India gained independence in 1947 from British rule. Gandhi in his lifetime was revered as a saint and when assassinated in 1948 became a martyr, who was referred to as the “spokesman for the conscience of mankind around the world.” Richard Attenborough (“Cry Freedom”/”A Bridge Too Far”/”Shadowlands”) directs a straightforward biopic, one that never really answers what Gandhi was all about and despite its length leaves many unanswered questions about his teachings. The film canonizes Gandhi and in the process distorts the historical period it covers, as it paints his rivals and those close to him in too broad terms to mean much. But these flaws give way to the superb groundbreaking charismatic performance of Kingsley, who not only infuses him with great determination and dignity but looks remarkably like his character. The film also does a good job of incorporating the big theme of the revolution being peaceful. It stands as Attenborough’s crowning achievement as a director, in a film that was 20 years in the making. It won 8 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Ben Kingsley), Best Editor, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Screenplay (John Briley) and Best Costume Design.

The film that spans more than 50 years in the life of Gandhi’s civil rights and freedom struggle opens in 1893, where Mohandas Gandhi is thrown off a South African train for being an Indian and traveling as a person of color in a first class compartment with royal Britishers. While in South Africa, for the next 14 years, the advocate attorney decides to start a non-violent protest campaign for the rights of all Indians in South Africa and when after numerous arrests and worldwide publicity, the South African government relents by recognizing rights for Indians, though not for the native blacks of South Africa.

Gandhi is invited back to India in 1915 as a national hero and takes up the fight for India’s independence from the British Empire and vigorously mounts a non-violent non-cooperation campaign of unprecedented magnitude. He lives a simple life in an ashram near Ahmedabad. Over the ensuing years there are incidents of violence against the protesters and Gandhi is imprisoned several times. The protests continue through World War II and have gained massive worldwide coverage, especially in movie newsreels of the period, as a tired England from the war finally grants India’s independence. But independence proves to be no utopia, as religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims suddenly erupt into nation-wide violence. The upset Gandhi declares a hunger strike, and does not eat until the fighting stops. Against Gandhi’s wishes the country is divided, but at least the fighting stops. After the Partition of India is carried out, the new Muslim countries are called Pakistan and Bangladesh. While Gandhi was still trying to work out a more peaceful solution to the religious conflict, an angry dissident assassinates the 78-year-old with a bullet.

In supporting roles the following actors caught my attention: Candice Bergen has a nice fun part in a cameo playing the American photographer Margaret Bourke-White. Edward Fox is chilling playing the British General Dwyer, the commander in charge of the brutal massacre of more than 1500 Indian men, women and children by native soldiers in a compound called Jallianwalla Bagh. Anti-apartheid playwright Athol Fugard effectively plays apartheid architect Jan Smuts. Roshan Seth makes for a bland Nehru, which mostly can be attributed to the script not developing his character.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”