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Gandhi Movie Review

film kingsley ben attenborough

1982 – Richard Attenborough –

In some ways, it is surprising that Western audiences, especially American ones, embraced this biography of Gandhi as enthusiastically as they did. After all, this enigmatic, complex man stood firmly opposed to many twentieth-century Western beliefs. Mohandas Gandhi believed in returning to a simple, non-industrial village life instead of relying on the promise of technology. His idea of “satyagraha,” the refusal to obey unjust laws with the willingness to accept the penalty for that refusal, runs counter to the American ideal of fighting for your standards and aggressive opposition to tyranny (though it did influence Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement). And yet, the power of one man's will and his sacrifices for the cause of right have never been more engaging and admirably displayed than in this film about “the small man in the loincloth” who brought down the British Raj and freed India.

Scope is one of the film's great strengths—we ride with the camera across the vastness of the Indian subcontinent with glimpses of its three hundred million people. Poverty and beauty, familiarity and strangeness meet in almost every frame. And director Richard Attenborough's choice of Ben Kingsley to play Gandhi was inspired. Famous as a stage actor but unknown to movie audiences, Kingsley looks with luminous searching brown eyes into the souls of those on-screen and off. He also ages more convincingly than the other actors—it is easy to feel the frailty and pain of his continual imprisonment and hunger strikes simply through his posture and gait. The story, as Attenborough claims in the introduction, is meant to be true to the “spirit” rather than all the facts of the Mahatma's life, and many incidents are omitted or exaggerated to carry the principal message of the movie.

Still, watching the British Empire finally crack beneath the vision of a single man curiously echoes our own history. Gandhi was called “bapu,” the father of his country, spiritually and politically. His courage and complexity remain even after his assassination and deification. Maybe that is one source of the power of Gandhi: it is in some ways a reflection of our own great American stand for freedom re-enacted half a world away.

Cast: Ben Kingsley (Mahatma Gandhi), Candice Bergen (Margaret Bourke-White), Edward Fox (General Dyer), John Gielgud (Lord Irwin), Trevor Howard (Judge Broomsfield), John Mills (Lord Clemsford), Saeed Jaffrey (Sardar Patel), Martin Sheen (Walker), Ian Charleson (Charlie Andrews), Alyque Padamsee (Jinnah), Roshan Seth (Nehru), Geraldine James (Mirabehn), Rohini Hattangadi (Kasturbai Gandhi), Amrish Puri (Kahn), Peter Harlowe (Lord Mountbatten) Screenwriter: John Briley Cinematographer: Ronnie Taylor, Billy Williams Composer: George Fenton, Ravi Shankar Producer: Richard Attenborough, Rani Dube, and Suresh Jindal for Goldcrest/Indo-British/International Film Investors. National Film Development Corporation of India; released by Columbia Pictures Running Time: 188 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1982: Actor (Ben Kingsley), Art Direction/Set Decoration, Cinematography, Costume Design, Director (Richard Attenborough), Film Editing, Picture, Screenplay, Sound; Nominations: Makeup, Score; British Academy Awards, 1982: Actor (Ben Kingsley), Director (Richard Attenborough), Film, Supporting Actress (Rohini Hattangadi); Golden Globe Awards, 1983: Actor (Ben Kingsley), Director (Richard Attenborough), Foreign Film, Screenplay, New Star (Ben Kingsley); Directors Guild of America Awards, 1982: Outstanding Achievement to Richard Attenborough; Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, 1982: Actor (Ben Kingsley); New York Film Critics Awards, 1982: Actor (Ben Kingsley), Film Box Office: $24.9M (rentals).

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