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Gandhi (1982)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Part I
New Delhi, India, 30 January 1948. Mahatma Gandhi is assassinated at a prayer meeting and given a state funeral.

Southern Africa, 1893. Gandhi, a young Indian attorney, is expelled from a train for travelling first class, due to his race. Under the banner of the Indian Congress Party of South Africa, he decides to protest against the treatment of Indian immigrants, with the help of an Indian businessman, Mr Khan. When Gandhi encourages a crowd to burn passes in defiance of the law, he is beaten by the police and Khan is arrested. The British newspapers report the story.

Mr Walker, an American journalist, is interested in Gandhi's cause and visits him at his ashram. Gandhi makes a speech to a packed hall, calling for non-violent resistance against General Smuts' proposed changes to the Pass Laws (which would result in every Indian being fingerprinted and non-Christian marriages being considered invalid). He successfully leads a march of striking miners. Later, Gandhi, along with thousands of other Indian protesters, is imprisoned, but the mines remain closed. General Smuts agrees a deal with Gandhi whereby the Act will be repealed, but Indian immigration will be stopped. All the protesters are freed.

Bombay, 1915. Gandhi arrives in India, greeted by members of the Congress Party, including Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel. They introduce him to Mohammed Ali Jinnah, member of Congress and leader of the Muslim League. Gandhi journeys through India to learn more about the country. He observes poverty and witnesses insurgents killed by the British forces.

After the end of World War I, the Congress Party presses for Home Rule. Gandhi criticises the party leaders for their privileged means, advocating a simpler lifestyle. In his ashram, Gandhi lives as an Indian, yet he begins to realise that in his own country it is the British who run the justice system and decide what he may sell. Gandhi attacks the poverty caused by the British, but counsels non-violent resistance. When he is arrested, riots break out. Gandhi is granted bail. Some months later the Lieutenant Governor grants the protesters' demands for a rebate on rents paid, their freedom to choose which crops to grow and a part-Indian commission to hear grievances.

Gandhi suggests a day of fast and prayer (effectively a general strike) after hearing of proposed legislation allowing arrest without warrant and automatic imprisonment for possession of seditious materials. The strike of April 6th (the date when the laws are due to take effect) brings India to a standstill. Gandhi is again arrested, but the British, in an effort to quell rioting, agree to free Gandhi if he speaks for non-violence.

British General Dyer orders his troops to open fire on a public meeting. The Amritsar massacre results in 1,516 casualties.

Part II
The Viceroy insists that Britain condemns the massacre, but Gandhi demands Home Rule for India. He appeals for Hindu / Muslim unity, calling on Indians to burn their British-made clothing.

The British declare marshal law in Bengal. During a march to burn British cloth, the crowd turn on police, murdering them. Gandhi fasts in protest at the violence, and successfully stops it. He is arrested for sedition and pleads guilty. The judge pronounces a sentence of six years imprisonment, but expresses his hope that the term may be shorter.

Porbandar State, some years later. Gandhi has returned to the area of his birth. Walker visits Gandhi and discovers that he has a new plan. Gandhi instigates a 240-mile march to the sea to make salt (illegal without a government licence), hoping to reach the sea on the anniversary of the Amritsar massacre. Walker ensures global press coverage.

The public manufacture of salt becomes widespread. The British arrest almost 100,000, but cannot stop the peaceful protests. Gandhi informs Lord Irwin that he will lead a (non-violent) raid on the Dharasana salt works. Gandhi is arrested, but the raid goes ahead; many Indians are badly beaten.

Gandhi travels to England to attend a Round Table Conference in London discussing the possible independence of India. He is the sole representative of the Indian National Congress. No permanent agreement is reached due to concerns about a rift between Muslims and Hindus.

Gandhi and his wife, Kasturba, are arrested during World War II for speaking against the war. Nehru is also held. Margaret Bourke-White, a photographer for Life Magazine, visits Gandhi. Gandhi is worried that Jinnah has gained too much power through cooperation with the British, and has filled Muslims with a fear of what might happen to them in a predominantly Hindu country. Kasturba dies in jail from a heart attack.

After the war is over, Lord Mountbatten arrives as India's new Viceroy, hoping to facilitate the birth of an independent India as part of the British Commonwealth. Gandhi, in a bid for a united country, proposes Jinnah as India's first prime minister, but Jinnah argues for partition since civil war is feared. An independent India and an independent Pakistan are created.

August 1947. Muslim and Hindu refugees clash on the India / Pakistan border. Gandhi leaves for Calcutta after reports of violent clashes. He begins a fast for peace. Gandhi is in danger of dying until he breaks his fast after hearing that all fighting has stopped.

Gandhi prepares to journey to Pakistan. Before he can leave, however, he is assassinated. Gandhi's ashes are scattered into the Ganges.