Gandhi

Released:  1982

Cast:  Ben Kingsley, Candice Bergen, Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Martin Sheen

Oscar Wins:  Best Picture, Best Actor (Ben Kingsley), Best Director (Richard Attenborough), Best Original Screenplay (John Briley), Best Art Direction (Stuart Craig, Robert W. Laing, Michael Seirton), Best Cinematography (Billy Williams, Ronnie Taylor), Best Costume Design (John Mollo, Bhanu Athaiya), Best Film Editing (John Bloom)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Original score (Ravi Shankar, George Fenton), Best Sound (Gerry Humphreys, Robin O’Donoghue, Jonathan Bates, Simon Kaye), Best Makeup (Tom Smith)

SUMMARY:  On January 30, 1948, Mohandas Gandhi is taking his usual evening walk, amid a huge crowd of spectators.  One of them, Nathuram Godse, pushes through the crowd until he is directly in front of Gandhi, then shoots him in the chest.  Gandhi dies almost immediately; at his funeral several days later, an enormous crowd watches the procession, which includes dignitaries and royalty from many different countries.  The film then flashes back to 1893, when Gandhi is a 23-year-old lawyer in South Africa.  Although he has a first-class train ticket, Gandhi is thrown off the train because he is “colored”.  This, and the other discriminatory laws against Indians lead him to start a non-violent protest movement against the South African Government.  During the campaign, Gandhi is arrested several times, but succeeds in putting the struggle on an international stage; finally, the government agrees to some of his demands.  Gandhi then returns to his home country of India, where he is welcomed as a hero and celebrity.  Almost immediately he is asked to get involved in India’s fight for independence from Britain.  After traveling through the country for some time, Gandhi agrees to join the movement, and again begins a non-violent, non-cooperative campaign.  With the help of several other men, including Pandit Nehru and Muhammad Jinnah, he unites the Hindus and Muslims in the country, and they begin peacefully protesting British rule.  One of their first actions is a national day of prayer and fasting; as most Indians observe this, India’s infrastructure essentially shuts down.  On several occasions, British soldiers strike out at the protesters, resulting in injuries and deaths; Gandhi is also arrested and imprisoned numerous times.  In 1919, a large group of Indians gathers at Jallianwala Bagh garden to listen to speakers; despite their non-aggression, British soldiers open fire on the huge crowd, and the event turns into a massacre. In 1922, a group of protesters sets fire to a police station and Gandhi halts the campaign, saying that he does not want independence if it must be gained through violence.  However, in the late 1920s, he resumes the campaign.

One of the biggest actions of this rebellion is the Salt March:  the British have a monopoly on salt, which is necessary to survive in the Indian climate.  Gandhi and his followers march 240 miles to the ocean, where they begin to make salt from the sea water — which is a crime.  He is again arrested, but a raid on the Dharasana Salt Works factory goes ahead as scheduled.  When a line of Indians approach the gate of the factory, British soldiers beat them down; Indian women then carry the men off, and another line approaches.  The violence continues unabated, but the event makes national news.  After this, Gandhi is invited to England to participate in talks regarding Indian independence.  During this time, he also engages in several hunger strikes.In 1947, India is granted its independence, but a new problem arises almost immediately:  the leaders of the country cannot agree on how to rule it, because of its split religious beliefs (Hindu and Muslim).  Ultimately, the country is split into Hindu-dominated India, and Muslim-dominated Pakistan, although Gandhi is vehemently against this decision.  Though he supports Nehru as the first Indian prime minister, Gandhi agrees to allow Jinnah to take the position if the country stays together, but this compromise fails, and the country is split.  As both Hindus and Muslims move from their homes, conflicts erupt between the two groups, and widespread violence erupts.  As a countermeasure, Gandhi goes on another hunger strike, proclaiming that he will not eat until the violence is completely stopped.  Finally, both Muslims and Hindus become so concerned about Gandhi’s imminent death that they lay down their weapons, and make public oaths not to pick up arms against each other again.  After this, Gandhi continues to advocate peace between the two countries, and even plans a visit to Pakistan.  Though the fighting has stopped, many people are still very angry, and on January 30, only a few weeks after the end of the fast (on January 18), he is shot and killed while going for his evening walk.

MY TAKE:  After watching this, it’s pretty easy to see where Martin Luther King Jr. got his inspiration for the Civil Rights Movement.  Both movement were similar in that the protesters faced horrific violence as a result of their peaceful, non-violent rebellion.  However, I would agree with their philosophy — by uniting their peoples, they showed the rest of the country (and the world) just how important and determined they were.  I find it hard to say that violence and war is never warranted, but I would agree that in many cases, peaceful protesting is a better way to go.  It forces the other party to act on a higher level, or risk condemnation for its brutality.  On the contrary, if a rebellion is violent, the oppressors would be seen as having every right to strike back.  In the movie, Gandhi sometimes comes across as a simple old man who is out of touch with reality, but if you look deeper, you realize he’s incredible smart.  He wields his enormous popularity as a source of power:  people are so worried about him dying that they stop fighting each other.  It’s actually a little manipulative, but I guess it’s for a good cause.  Clearly, Gandhi always knew exactly what he was doing.  I have heard that this movie is now regarded as rather weak and overlong, but I found it very impactful, and I didn’t feel as though it was too long — I could see what each scene added to the overall story.  I actually watched most of Schindler’s List again before starting this movie, and it highlighted what a great actor Ben Kingsley is.  He was chosen to play Gandhi because he’s part Indian (his father was Indian, and his real name is Krishna Bhanji), and he obviously does it very well, since he won the Oscar.  In Schindler, he plays Schindler’s right-hand-man Itzhak Stern, a Jewish accountant.  Though there is probably some Jewish heritage in Kingsley’s family, he himself is not Jewish.  However, this didn’t stop him from being completely convincing.  Like Meryl Streep, he seems to totally become his character, and the vastly different accents he uses in the two films highlight his talent.  He has had roles in a number of other films, including Hugo and Night at the Museum 3, in which he ironically played a Pharaoh who had tons of Jewish slaves.  He’s masterful.

RATING:  Epic and inspiring.

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