Gandhi (1982) dir. Richard Attenborough
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Candice Bergin, Rosan Seth, Martin Sheen, John Gielgud
The phenomenal achievement and lasting power of Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi” cannot be overstated. Most attempts by other filmmakers to encapsulate the life and inspiration of great historical figures on film pale in comparison to “Gandhi’s” qualities of truth, integrity and authenticity.
A film like this will likely never be made the way it was back in 1982. Before computer graphics technology gave filmmakers the ability to put as many people in a shot as they like, Attenborough had to do the real thing. While manufacturing the final funeral procession in a computer can be almost indistinguishable from the real thing, the human eye (whether conscious or subconscious) will always pick up on it. It makes for a more truthful and realistic film.
The funeral scene had 300,000 extras (the most ever for a single scene), the logistics of wrangling and coordinating this are staggering. It’s tempting for a director to pull back and marvel at these money shots. Indeed Attenborough is not shy about showing 300,000 people in one shot, but these shots never stand out because he has established the integrity and realism in the film.
Attenborough also pays attention to the small scenes which establish Gandhi’s character. We first meet the young Gandhi on a train to South Africa. When the racist ticket porter confronts him, Gandhi is shocked by the inequality and maltreatment of ‘coloured’ people in the country. It’s a great scene which sparks Gandhi’s journey, anchored by Ben Kingsley’s great performance.
Prior to “Gandhi” Kingsley had been toiling on British television and at the Royal Shakespeare company. His performance is so full of nuanced internalized conflict and commanding and convincing inspirational speeches, his Oscar is well-deserved.
The politics of “Gandhi” are more than relevant today. The moment when Gandhi makes the decision to concede to the British demands of separating India and Pakistan is achingly painful, the ramifications of which we now know is continuous war and conflict for over 50 years. This internal struggle for peace among his own followers was Gandhi’s most challenging fight. Gandhi continually wrestled with not only British colonialism but the internal class system which developed among his own people. Gandhi’s most inspiring moments are his absolute unwavering discipline with the methods of his cause. Every act of civil disobedience and non-violence today owes a debt of gratitude to Gandhi’s struggle.
For it’s message of peace and unity, “Gandhi” is an ideal film to rewatch during the holiday season.
“Gandhi” is available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in their “Columbia Best Pictures Box Set”