I have been watching all the movies that won the Oscar for Best Picture. The next on my list was the 1982 winner, Gandhi, directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Ben Kingsley.
Gandhi is an epic biopic, telling the story of the famous inspirational leader and how he used nonviolent techniques to bring independence to India. Kingsley's tour de force performance turns this into a compelling, intimate movie as well as a film about important world events.
The other Best Picture nominees that year were E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Missing, Tootsie, and The Verdict. Gandhi also won Oscars for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Kingsley), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (John Briley).
The movie was based on research from primary and secondary sources, including aides and acquaintances of Gandhi, news footage, articles and other information.
We first meet Gandhi in South Africa, where he is visiting as a young lawyer and is horrified to discover the conditions under which Indian nationals are forced to live. He leads a peaceful revolt to earn them equal rights.
After his success in South Africa, which included a stint in jail, Gandhi returns to India, where factions interested in effecting an overthrow of the British government seek his help. At first, his nonviolent techniques are regarded as foolish, but Gandhi changes people's minds through leading by example. Soon, hundreds of thousands of people are attending his rallies, marches and protests. With a few notable exceptions, they follow rigidly his rules for nonviolent protest.
Now, we've all heard Gandhi's story, at least in part, and know he was influential on the American Civil Rights leaders of the 1960s, especially Martin Luther King. But until you see some of these events reenacted, it's difficult to comprehend the brutality and injustice on behalf of the British, trying to maintain their control. It's absolutely shocking to see what they did to put down an uprising, even against unarmed woman and children.
The movie also casts light on some lesser known aspects of Gandhi's life, such as the fact that, until he served time in prison in South Africa, he wore Western clothing. During his prison stay, incarcerated with other Indian protesters, he decided that, if he wanted to lead them, he needed to live like them. And so he began to wear a simple loincloth and a dhoti, which is a long piece of cloth wrapped around the shoulders.
What's more, upon returning to India and learning about the economics that drove the political situation, he began to make his own clothing, spinning the cloth by hand. He encouraged his followers to do the same, thereby freeing themselves from the British textile industry.
The acting was extraordinary. Kingsley (Krishna Bhanji), who is half Indian, did a remarkable job of capturing the peaceful leader, down to nuances of his speech. This is particularly impressive if you compare his performance to archival footage of Gandhi.
There was, of course, great care paid to sets and costumes, as well, making this truly epic movie. As Attenborough described in the bonus DVD, which included interviews and featurettes about the movie, the most challenging scene was Gandhi's funeral, which ultimately involved about 400,000 extras, about half of which were unpaid volunteers. The scene was shot on the 33rd anniversary of Gandhi's actual funeral. Now that CGI allows directors to simulate such large crowds, it's likely there will never again be a scene so involved.
Even though there are thousands of people involved, the movie stays tightly focused on Gandhi and his closest friends and advisors. Not only is this movie about the journey of a country; it's about the personal journey of one man towards spiritual enlightenment and global service.
Rating (5 out of 5): *****
"You must be the change you want to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi