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Gandhi (1982)

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Main image of Gandhi (1982)
35mm (also Super-Panavision 70mm), colour, 188 mins
DirectorRichard Attenborough
Production CompanyColumbia Pictures
ProducerRichard Attenborough
ScreenplayJohn Briley
PhotographyBilly Williams
 Ronnie Taylor
MusicRavi Shankar

Cast: Ben Kingsley (Mahatma Gandhi), Candice Bergen (Margaret Bourke-White), Edward Fox (General Dyer), John Gielgud (Lord Irwin), Trevor Howard (Judge Broomfield)

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An Indian attorney, Mohandas K. Gandhi, aids the cause of civil rights for Indian immigrants in South Africa by advocating the use of non-violent protest. Later he becomes a political leader in India, where he helps to achieve his nation's independence from Britain, resulting in the creation of India and Pakistan.

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Released in 1982, Sir Richard Attenborough's epic biopic of Mohandas K. Gandhi, expertly played by Ben Kingsley, won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director and Actor, not to mention five BAFTA and Golden Globe Awards. A cherished but unrealised project of David Lean, the film is drawn on an epic canvas worthy of Lean himself, with a cast of thousands called upon to do justice to the life of India's Mahatma.

Beginning in 1948 with Gandhi's funeral (featuring an estimated 400,000 extras), the film soon flashes back to 1893, where we are introduced to the central character as a young, priviliged lawyer in South Africa. From here the film moves chronologically up to the great man's untimely demise. We witness Gandhi's burgeoning conscience and rise to national leader intent on ending British Colonial rule in India and bringing about his country's independence.

Many key events from Gandhi's life are captured, notably the Salt March in 1930 - when he led hundreds of thousands of Indians, forbidden from producing salt, to the sea to make their own salt - as well as the massacre at Amritsar and Gandhi's ensuing hunger strike in protest at the actions of the British Army. The film is most successful in its cinematographic grandeur, with Attenborough and directors of photography Billy Williams and Ronnie Taylor doing justice to one of the twentieth century's landmark lives and stories.

But despite the film's plaudits and its undeniable visual flair, Gandhi is not beyond criticism. Many of the supporting characters remain on the periphary, their motivations never fully explained. While this is excusable in the case of more minor characters, one lingering source of discontent persists over the depiction of Mohammed Al Jinnah (played by Alique Padamsee), who worked alongside Gandhi and Nehru in fighting British Rule and went on to found Pakistan. Some critics have argued that the film is unfairly biased against Jinnah, depicting him as a scheming, Machiavellian figure, intent on seeing the partition of India to satisfy his own hunger for power.

It has been suggested that this negative characterisation reflects the bias of co-funders the Film Board of India against the founder of India's neighbour and rival. Other problems are the depiction of a Gandhi of saintly perfection (although stories of the Mahatma's more peculiar characteristics didn't emerge until years later), and a rather wearying pace.

Ali Jaafar

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Video Clips
1. We cannot lose (0:56)
2. Civil resistance (0:58)
Production stills
North West Frontier (1959)
Jewel in the Crown, The (1984)
Attenborough, Lord Richard (1923-)
Bloom, John
Charleson, Ian (1949-1990)
Day Lewis, Daniel (1957-)
Fox, Edward (1937-)
Griffiths, Richard (1947-2013)
Hill, Bernard (1944-)
Howard, Trevor (1913-1988)
Jaffrey, Saeed (1932-)
James, Geraldine (1950-)
Kingsley, Sir Ben (1942-)
Mills, John (1908-2005)
Puri, Om (1950-)
Seth, Roshan (1942-)