Reviewed by Ivana Redwine
Tagline: "The Man of the Century. The Motion Picture of a Lifetime."Length: 188 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG
In its theatrical release, the 1982 biopic Gandhi won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Ben Kingsley), Best Director (Richard Attenborough), and Best Adapted Screenplay (John Briley). On August 28, 2001, Gandhi was released for the first time on DVD. The new DVD contains the movie in widescreen format, and you can listen to the dialogue in the original English or dubbed in Spanish or French. The DVD also offers lots of subtitles, including English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai.
Gandhi is a sweeping epic that covers 55 years in the life of the great Indian leader and employs 300,000 extras in the scene reenacting the title characters funeral. Producer-director Attenborough obtained the cooperation of the government of India in making the film, and there is some fantastic location shooting. In playing the title role, Ben Kingsley is uncanny in his ability to evoke the memory of the real-life Gandhi.
The first half of the film covers 1893 through about 1919, during which time Mohandas K. Gandhi ages from 23 to about 49. This part of the movie shows a few episodes from the 21 years that Gandhi spent in South Africa, trying to force the government to change laws that discriminated against Asians because of their race. During these struggles, Gandhi developed his strategy of nonviolent civil disobedience to unjust laws that eventually served as a model for many political movements around the world.
In early 1915 the 45-year-old Gandhi returned to British-ruled India and joined others in seeking home rule. Two of those who worked with Gandhi were Nehru, who later became Indias first prime minister, and Jinnah, who later became first governor-general of Pakistan. The first half of the film ends shortly after showing a key moment in the home rule movement, namely the tragedy at Amritsar, where troops under a British commander fired without adequate warning on an unarmed crowd, killing about 400 and wounding some 1200.
While the first part of Gandhi seems like a slow slog to me, the pace picks up nicely in the second half, which covers from about 1920 to 1948. Gandhi continues to provoke the British authorities using nonviolent civil disobedience, is in and out of prison several times, and goes on periodic hunger strikes to influence events. Gandhi comes to be revered by the Indian people, and he becomes widely known as Mahatma, meaning great-souled. Eventually, the British resolve to keep India a colony is worn down, and in 1947 India is granted independence.
But Gandhis dream of a politically unified Indian subcontinent where religious preference would not be an issue didnt work out: The predominantly Muslim areas were partitioned into the separate country of Pakistan, and what was left became the predominantly Hindu country of India. The partition left a legacy of massive displacement and bloody violence. Gandhi traveled into troubled areas, conducting prayer vigils and fasts, but on one of these visits in 1948 he was assassinated by a Hindu extremist.
The political story told by Gandhi seemed pretty unintelligible to me, and I never got much of a sense of what Gandhi was like as a man. But I dont believe Attenborough had much interest in those aspects of the story; I think he wanted to tell an inspirational tale about one of the most unusual men in world history. As U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall said, "Mahatma Gandhi has become the spokesman for the conscience of all mankind. He was a man who made humility and simple truth more powerful than Empires." Attenboroughs film, due in no small part to Kingsleys great performance in the title role, succeeds brilliantly in capturing Marshalls notion, and that is more than enough for me to recommend the movie highly.
The DVD contains only a few special features, the best of which is a nineteen-minute featurette where actor Ben Kingsley talks about the movie. There are also four brief segments of historical newsreel footage about Gandhi, and a few interesting quotes from words written or spoken by the Mahatma. Regrettably, the DVD provides no audio commentary track, and it supplies no information that helps put the events depicted in the film in historical context.
Selected Special Features on the DVD: