By Richard Winters
My Rating: 9 out of 10
4-Word Review: Fighting for India independence.
The film follows the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi (Ben Kingsley) starting at the age of 23 when he gets thrown off of a train in South Africa simply for being Indian. After spending many years fighting for Indian rights in that country he then moves back to his homeland of India. It is there that he takes up the challenge of fighting for its independence from Britain by advocating for his followers to practice peaceful civil disobedience.
This film project took director Richard Attenborough 20 years in the making as all the Hollywood studios refused to back it. He also went through many different casting choices in regards to who would play the lead and at one time seriously considered Dustin Hoffman and Anthony Hopkins in the title role. Due to the difficulty of finding backers and other hurdles some of the stars that do appear here were offered their parts many years before the filming actually took place including Candice Bergen, who plays Margaret Bourke-White, who first got approached about it in 1966.
Yet the long wait proved to be worth it as the film comes close to being a masterpiece in just about every conceivable area. I was surprised too that for such a long runtime it hardly ever seems slow and clips along at a brisk pace. The story is filled with many strong scenes even a few harrowing ones like the recreation of the Amritsar Massacre that is quite disturbing, but thoughtfully handled.
After making his film debut a decade earlier as the bad guy in Fear is the Key and then moving back to the stage Kingsley shines in his Academy Award winning performance . The rest of the cast gets filled with a lot of big names, but many of them have brief appearances that almost amount to walk-on parts. My favorite though was Trevor Howard, who plays a judge and despite have little dialogue and only 2-minutes in front of the camera still manages to make the most of it, which is what great acting is all about.
The film though lacks a complete oversight of Gandhi’s character as we only get introduced to him when he is already 23 even though the crucial formative years are during childhood and it would’ve been revealing and insightful to have seen some scenes of him during that period. His family life also takes a backseat. We see only one scene of him with his children and then they just disappear. He also discusses marrying his wife when he was very young, but a flashback showing it would’ve been stronger.
The film also has its share of dissenters who feel it’s biased as it only shows the positive side to Gandhi’s personality. It even instigated three novels, which paints Gandhi in a much different light by arguing that he fought for Indian rights while in South Africa, but not for the blacks and there’s evidence that he had the same disdain for the blacks in that country as the whites did.
Some also argue that his involvement in the push for India independence was much more minimal than the film portrays and that India most likely would’ve eventually broken off from British rule one way or the other had Gandhi existed or not. All of these counter arguments could have some merit, but I don’t think that was the intended point of the film, but instead the focus was on how peaceful non-violent resistance can make a difference and in that regard the movie succeeds nicely.
My Rating: 9 out of 10
Released: December 6, 1982
Runtime: 3 Hours 11 Minutes
Director: Richard Attenborough
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube