Gandhi (1982) – Movie Review
The Movie “Gandhi” - Directed by Richard Attenborough – portrays the biographical sketch and captures the essence of the message of our Father of Nation in excellent form and impressive dramatic effect. It is the fact story of one man who became the unchallenged leader of the Indian people's struggle to free themselves from British rule. The movie compresses half-century real life incidences of Gandhi and portrays effectively his contribution of non-violent solution to the world against a great empire. The movie reconfirms in Gandhi the greatest political leadership and thinker of the 20th Century. The three hours movie meticulously appeals the audience with various techniques of film making in great precision. Gandhi's great achievement of non-violence theory is best realized from this movie and it’s indeed a tribute to his cause.
Ben Kingsley – in the role of Gandhi – brings out his fabulous acting and overall excellence. A TV artist as he was prior to this movie entered the Hollywood big screen with a band that no artist could have achieved such feet and won an Oscar at his debut. Other characters who draw compulsive attention in the movie are Rohini Hattangadi (Kasturi Bai Gandhi), Alyque Padamsee (Mohammed Ali Jinnah), Edward Fox (Gen. Dyer), Roshan Seth (Nehru), Geraldine James (Mirabehn), John Gielgud (Lord Irwin), Trevor Howard (Judge Broomfield), John Mills (Lord Chelmsford), Athol Fugard (Smuts), Martin Sheen (Walker), Ian Charleson (Charlie Andrews). The winning of below mentioned 8 Oscar awards announce the overall quality of this movie:
Name of Artist
Actor in Role of Gandhi
Art Direction - Set Decoration
Stuart Craig, Robert W. Laing & Michael Seirton
Billy Williams & Ronnie Taylor
John Mollo & Bhanu Athaiya
The movie commences with assassination seen of Gandhiji at Birla House, Delhi. Nathuram Godse with tension on his face moves boldly towards Gandhi who is coming for prayer with his two grand nieces Manu and Abha. Ignoring Manu’s request, Godse folds his hands together and bows in greeting Mahatma and immediately we see Gandhi in full three shots. Gandhi falls uttering Oh, God . . . Oh, God (Hey Ram .. Hey Ram). The funeral scene followed by this murder with huge crowd and commentators speaking in soaked tone portrays a very gloomy situation.
We saw the movie with a prejudiced mind that a foreigner could never portray Mahatma Gandhi with his real contribution. Our intuition gets defeated as the screen rolls on and on with the masterpiece direction of Richard Attenborough.
The seen at South African Railway sets out a new trend in Gandhi's thinking. Gandhi’s travel in the first class coach with a book in his hand – we see the book “The Kingdom of God is Within You of Leo Tolstoy – comes to an abrupt end on the intervention of a European. As a result, Gandhi is thrown out from the Railway Coach and this humiliation transforms Gandhi from a private person to a public personality. The class acting of Ben Kingsley in expressing the great agony and frustration of the scene stuffs with emotions on every Indian.
Rohini Hattangady at the age of 27 years took the role of Kasturba Gandhi in this movie. Her role reminds us the perfection of Indian housewife following the cause of her husband. Kasturba rebelling against the lowly task of dealing with the issue of sanitation during their stay at South Africa and Gandhi being fierce with her, threatening to expel her from the household, and his subsequent apology shows the intimacy of his private life linked with public life. Kasturba realizing his nature promises to do that part of her duty to support his efforts to live a humble life. Rohini Hattangady could not get an Oscar notwithstanding her excellent acting and the movie winning eight Oscars. The film portrays the relationship between Mahatma and Kasturba in an extremely beautiful and sensitive manner. Gandhi’s repeat demonstration of his marriage with Kasturba at his later age before a journalist giving new meaning for the Saptapadi (Seven phera - circumambulation) is worth adulation. This scene confirms the sensitiveness maintained in the film making.
Gandhi's attempt of mass awakening against injustice in South Africa is captivating depiction. Gandhi’s oratory skill in a jam packed Imperial theatre of South Africa in denouncing the Black Act (Passed in March 1907) is quite appealing. His effective communication stating that all Indians must now be fingerprinted – like criminals and no marriage other than a Christian marriage is valid – drives home the point Gandhi intends to inject in the mass. The signal of anger and protest is silently captured through camera rolling around the entire hall. Kingsley’s intelligent aura, utterly rational and calm reaction to inflamed emotion brings us Gandhi alive. The qualities which Richard Attenborough gives Gandhi is of course remarkable and the question arises in our mind did such a man ever exist in our land. Gandhi is arrested for the first time in South Africa for the protest he leads against the Black Act. It took seven years of protest and in June 1914 the Black Act was repealed. Gandhi demonstrates that nonviolent protest could be immensely successful. The determination of Gandhi in ensuring logical conclusion of any issue taken up by him is convincingly imprinted in the viewers mind with his activities at South Africa. Gandhi's successful attempt in effectively thwarting the British in their discriminatory policies of governance at South Africa brings to the world the seedling of new leadership in Gandhi. The role the Judge Broomfield (Trevor Howard – has a very small role as an English magistrate) in South Africa brings out the importance of law and justice under the English regime. At this moment even Gandhi has great respect to the law of English as he keeps praising it to his wife Kasturba. The whole scene is skillfully picturised and the movie indeed begins with a bang.
Gandhi’s returning to India in 1915 (Bombay Port) is also shown as great event. Indians and Congress Party receive Gandhi with great curiosity, expectations and belief that his man is going to deliver something to all of them. By this time his non-violent mantra (adopted in South Africa) has become topical in the minds of Indian. Nehru (Roshan Seth) and Patel (Saeed Jaffrey) receive Gandhi at Bombay port. Although Nehru is said to have met Gandhi for the first time in 1916 at Lucknow Congress Session, we ignore such error from Attenborough’s creation.
Gandhi’s trip to see real India along with Kasturba taken up on the advice of Gokhale (Shriram Lagoo) is extensively shown. Gandhi has now become man of masses. The locations, thousands of extras, old trains, innocent and naïve surroundings of our good old days, the hues of rural India talks about the superb photography of Ronnie Taylor and Billy Williams. The movie in total is powerful, dramatic and authentic when we see through the photographic techniques.
The missing of conventional Indian movie style, dancing or flashbacks is unique but welcome and befitting the great leader. While the average age of Indian movie viewers are considered to fall between 12 and 15 years of age, this movie expects a greater average of age from the viewers.
Edward Fox plays the military commander - General Dyer, who cold-bloodedly shoots down unarmed freedom fighters attending a peaceful rally in Jallianwalla Bagh, Amritsar on 13th April 1919. His action in doing this even without giving any warning shows the level of British brutality. The massacre seen is indeed horrifying. This incident further fueled impetus to the demand of Poorna Swaraj. The movie should have taken the sentiments of Indians and included the scene of triggering by Udham Singh on General Dyer on 13 March 1940. Gandhi, as expected had released a statement (in Journal Harijan) stating that he had been outraged by the assassination and the differences with General Dyer should not prevent Indians from being grieved over his assassination. The consistent line of thinking by Gandhi never got deviated even by revenges.
Incidentally, to maintain undiminished stature for Gandhi, Attenborough has avoided projecting any other personalities in the Independence struggle who achieved heroic proportions in their own. Hence the fact of Gandhi visiting Bhagat Singh in prison and his pleading to draft a compromise letter that would stay his execution is not shown. Bhagat Singh refused and was hanged.
Attenborough has also ignored the most fascinating ideological debates of the times - the dialogue between Gandhi and Ambedkar. While Gandhi desired to change the nomenclature of the oppressed sections and call them as Harijans to overcome the stigma they bore, Ambedkar advocated class struggle to change their social condition. Gandhi’s advocacy against untouchability in this movie does not form full circle without the mention of Ambedkar’s view.
The role of Mohammed Ali Jinnah portrayed by Alyque Padamsee is in the line of expectations of every Indian. Jinnah is presented in the film in a radically different way from Gandhi's and the fact known to Indians get reinforced on seeing this role. However, the fact is Jinnah achieved his goal with the means he adopted.
Roshan Seth plays the role of Nehru with great compassion. But the role of Nehru in this move is secondary and poorly explored. His admiration towards Gandhi is impressed upon the viewers in the few scenes he interacts with his mentor. Saeed Jaffrey cannot be serious and Vallabhbhai Patel was never jovial. Still the role of Patel is adorned by Saeed Jaffrey in a polished way with Western costumes which is slightly unacceptable to Indian viewers.
As a result of the Salt (Dandi) March, Gandhi is requested to travel to England for discussions about an independent India. The Salt March demonstrated to the world the new instrument of political action and peaceful militancy. It was at this battle, that the British lost the moral high ground. The movie correctly takes care of this entire episode. Subsequent, Gandhi-Irwin pact (March 1931) and the second Round Table Conference (August 1931) is briefly highlighted.
Subhas Chandra Bose and his Indian National Army don’t get mentioned. Nor the full impact of Quit India movement gets picturised. The roles of Jaya Prakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia and other leaders of the 1942 movement are conveniently forgotten. The arrest of Gandhi at Bombay in 1942 held for two years in the Aga Khan Palace is portrayed. The death of Kasturba Gandhi in 1944 and the sobbing of Gandhi disturb the Indian viewers. The melancholy mood goes to the extent that we have missed someone in our own family.
The final days of independence and the role of Lord Mountbatten is shown too briefly. It has not left much of a mark on the viewers particularly Indians who understand that Mountbatten as brilliant administrator, with a natural talent for negotiation and decisive action, We don’t get to see the impact of his attempt in hammering out in short order an Independence settlement that Gandhi, the Congress and the Moslem League all agreed to. The violence between Hindus and Muslims during the period of Independence is shown realistically with dramatic effect which takes place subsequent to creation of Pakistan.
The audience may not raise the finger against brutal British regime except to the scene of massacre at Jallianwalla Bagh. Richard Attenborough goes too soft to hide the situation of the desperate alarm with which the British viewed Hindu-Muslim unity. The well-documented incidents of British’s divide-and-rule policy which culminated in creation of Pakistan are safely buried by the master Director and the end result alone is shown.
After the Partition there was blood-cruddling violence. Lakhs of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were massacred and Gandhi goes on a fast unto death against the violance. When Gandhi sinks after nearly three weeks of self-imposed starvation, Nehru’s (Prime Minister by now) anger on the rioting mob in scorching language shows him in poor light.
The historical accuracy is amazing considering this movie was done by a person other than an Indian. It portrays all of the characters very well as they are developed throughout the movie in minute details. Kudos to the director for the wonderful job on such a fabulous movie. The movie reinforces Gandhi’s name forever in human history. Gandhi will be remembered as a political philosopher, for he taught the world how political ends can be achieved through non-violence.
Gandhi provided leadership by example. He exhibited the perfect marriage between personal morality and public action. The best demonstration of Gandhi’s leadership is his worldwide influence. Martin Luther King Jr., Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and countless other leaders have been deeply influenced by Gandhi and his philosophy of non-violence. New leaders influenced by Gandhi continue to emerge and Barack Obama adding to this long list states that "In my life, I have always looked to Mahatma Gandhi as an inspiration, because he embodies the kind of transformational change that can be made when ordinary people come together to do extraordinary things".
In a Gandhian spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation, Nelson Mandela reached out to his adversaries – the same ones who had tortured and imprisoned him to bring an end to apartheid rule. Gandhi’s greatest legacy is the notoriety he achieved for advocating non-violence as a means of overcoming oppression. It is this belief that guides the actions of millions of average citizens who participate in civil society movements today across the globe. Even in the case of Gandhi movie, the audience may not raise the finger against brutal British regime except to the scene of massacre at Jallianwalla Bagh. Richard Attenborough goes too soft to hide the situation of the desperate alarm with which the British viewed Hindu-Muslim unity. The well-documented incidents of British’s divide-and-rule policy which culminated in creation of Pakistan are safely buried by the master Director and the end result alone is shown.
Albert Einstein said of Gandhi, "Generations to come, it may be, will scarcely believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth." Each occasion the movie gives us new meaning and energizes us to stand for a cause.