It was Richard Attenborough's lifelong dream to bring the life story of Indian political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi to the screen. When it finally reached fruition in 1982, the 188-minute, Oscar-winning Gandhi was one of the most exhaustively thorough biopics ever made.

 

‘Mahatma Gandhi was not the commander of armies, nor the ruler of vast lands. He could not boast any scientific achievement or artistic gift. Yet men, governments, dignitaries from all over the world, have joined hands today to pay homage to the little brown man in the loin cloth, who led his country to freedom’

 

The film opens with Gandhi's assassination. The next scene, his funeral, is one of the greatest scenes in cinematic history. Attenborough managed to recreate Gandhi's funeral on January 31st, 1981, the 33rd anniversary of the actual funeral. It is estimated that nearly 400,000 people were on hand to be a part of the filming the recreation. This film was made before CGI, so the funeral scene is probably the last live action crowd of that magnitude that will ever be filmed. There are definite touches of the ‘Lean’ in the way the film is made.

The cinematography is exquisite on this film. The scenes of India are spectacular, and India is very much another character in the film. This film is as much about India itself as it is about Gandhi. Attenborough shows the audience the people of India from its countryside to the vast city of Calcutta. It is suggested by Kingsley, on the DVD, that Attenborough had a difficult time with the elite class in India at the time of filming. They were against the making of such a film by an Englishman. Undeterred by their negative thinking, he persevered to enlist thousands of Indians to help make this film. Every crowd scene, he used real Indians from the area. Attenborough also won both the Academy Award and Golden Globe for best direction.

Ben Kingsley was the perfect for the role of the little man. He resembled the real Gandhi and he was young enough to portray Gandhi as a young man. He nailed that British influenced Indian accent; he was a relatively unknown actor at the time, so the "big-time actor" persona did not get in the way of viewing the film. He did win both the Academy Award and Golden Globe for best actor, for this role, which he deserved. He became Gandhi.

 


 
If we wanted to criticise there would be a few points we could make.
Despite boasting a formidable cast of some of Britain's finest elder statesmen of theatre, including Sir John Gielgud, Sir John Mills and Edward Fox, their characters are not afforded full development. This runs in contrast to the fact that the film is extraordinary long and certainly lends itself to ‘a bit of padding out’. Geraldine James, in particular, is tragically under-used, in fact her entire presence in the film is explained in barely two sentences, therefore we have only the vaguest grasp of how their friendship came about.

 

Yet for all its realistic honesty and pure dedication to the truth of the life and times of this amazing man, the films strength does not come from its script, nor from really from its direction. Attenborough as I have already mentioned does an excellent job; but both script and camera serve only as a canvas upon which the masterful Ben Kingsley paints a touchingly lifelike picture of one of the greatest men in history.

 

One could argue that Kingsley was born to be Ghandi, similarity this is reminiscent of Gregory Peck playing Lincoln or Sir Michael Redgrave playing Barnes Wallace, sometimes in rare sparkles of brilliance actors become the characters they are playing – it happens here.

Gandhi was a private and humble man, a thing which Kingsley reflects with tender care. His dialogue is not extensive, nor does he engage in long, rambling speeches. His eyes speak humility, his movements speak love. He is the embodiment of everything Gandhi was, or was supposed to have been, without the need for showy displays of acting talent or loudly proclaimed diatribes.