GANDHI (1983)

  • Release Date: 25/02/1983
  • Cast: Ben Kingsley, Roshan Seth, Rohini Hattangadi, Candice Bergen, Martin Sheen, Edward Fox
  • Director: Richard Attenborough

There have been innumerable references and recreations of the life and times of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, affectionately referred to as Mahatma Gandhi in India but the Richard Attenborough directed and Ben Kingsley starrer motion picture Gandhi released in 1983 remains the most definitive, flawlessly acted and affecting spectacle that even in its English version feels more Indian than many of the Indian representations of the same story. Ben Kingsley’s interpretation of the man is shockingly real and Attenborough’s direction is so apt and to the point that he is able to condense a story that nearly spans India’s struggle for freedom in a crisp and intriguing feature that feels as real as it feels entertaining.

Mahatma Gandhi (Kingsley) is thrown out of a train for being an Indian and traveling in a first-class compartment at Pietermaritzburg. Little does the world know that this insignificant and yet deplorable act originating out of prejudice will turn a simple man into a national hero who. Mahatma Gandhi first fights against injustice and prejudice towards Indians and anyone else of colored skin in South Africa where he arranges and leads movements calling for major changes in the law and order system. Soon enough he realizes the need for his efforts in India and returns to his country to lead an unprecedented and unheard of non-violent movement that proves to be one of the factors that forced the British to contemplate leaving India.

The film documents key events through his struggle and even though it will always be nothing but highlights to a massive movement of this nature, it feels surprisingly coherent, relevant, and factual. I dare say that the film successfully covers most of the key events in the life of the Mahatma. The success of the film is an exponent of a variety of factors but for me, it was the acting, direction, screenplay, editing, and production. If I am not wrong, the film received an Academy Award apiece for each of these criteria.

Ben Kingsley slips inside the skin of the Mahatma like no one else has ever been able to. It must also be noted that when this film was made, there weren’t too many precedents to the role, and hence the research and the amount of work that Kingsley put in to get the tone of the character right merits special kudos. He is truly unforgettable as Gandhi and there are certain scenes that will remain etched in my memory forever purely because of the way he brings them to life.

The sequence after the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre when the Mahatma visits the spot and speaks not a word but emotes through his eyes is one such scene. The scene where he tries to convince the Congress and the Muslim League not to cut the country into two parts is also worth mentioning. I was bowled over by his expressions in the scene in Champaner where he listens to the plight of a farmer in silence. The film is peppered with countless such sequences that will be impossible to replicate by anyone in the future.

I loved John Bloom’s editing of the film. He understands the tale and also the best way of approaching it. This is a picture that is over 3 hours long but feels more like a 90-minute long affair. Ofcourse the content has to be given due credit for that but I have seen good content perish in the hands of amateur craftsmanship. Bloom does exceptionally well in both aspects of Editing— namely the in-shot cuts and the overall arrangement of sequences and their duration. He deliberately lingers on certain takes and gives extra time to certain shots so that they can achieve the emotional impact that they are aiming for.

The screenplay of Gandhi is breezy. From the first scene until the very end, the film organically shifts from one portion to another with little to complain about. The dialogs are relevant and feel like organic talk more than anything else. There is a huge time period covered here and it feels astonishingly well connected and the transitions are natural without any jerks whatsoever.

The music by Ravi Shankar and George Fenton feels earthen. They make it a point to render and use some of the songs that we have over the years associated with Gandhiji. The use of flute is beautiful in certain sequences. The film doesn’t have any straightforward songs, which has been a norm with the Indian Film Industry. Instead, they are used as background scores. This, I have over the years, believed to be the best manner to use songs.

The look and feel of Gandhi are authentic. Be it the palatial interiors of the Viceroy House or the humble dwellings of an earthen farmer, the set design, the costumes, and the layout of the picture is perfect. It must be noted that without the authenticity in the look and feel, the film’s impact would definitely be liquidated. Certain scenes like the Dandi March, the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre are recreated with historical accuracy based on available pictures and whatever little has survived from that era.

Richard Attenborough directs the film like an auteur and an auteur he is without any shred of doubt. His near OCD-esc penchant for details and a close eye for extracting drama out of ordinary situations is one of the best things about the film. He was not only been able to help Kingsley turn into Gandhi but was also instrumental in extracting equally stunning performances from the rest of the cast. Edward Fox who plays General Dyer is present in just two scenes but when you watch the film, you are weighed in by his act and its impact. That’s how much importance he paid to even a minor role. The casting choices in which I believe he must have had a hand or two is immaculate.

Gandhi is a film that I positively watch every Independence Day or Republic Day. It is a film that I don’t mind watching twice or thrice a year for the simple reason that it is so entertaining. Laced with the best Gandhi enactments of all times and stellar supporting performances, it is a gripping drama that gives us an unbiased look at one of the great revolutionary struggles of a generation of people. I personally don’t agree with non-violence but I cannot disagree that there were a great many who did. It cannot be ignored that it proved to one of the major factors in the British leaving our country and hence it is always a worthy story to revisit. Add to that all the technical finesse that this film exudes and you have a film at hand that will enthrall you in every viewing. It’s like a good book. You can never have enough of it.

Rating: 5/5 (5 out of 5 Stars) 

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