When I first saw “Gandhi” during the summer of last year the previous feature film I had experienced the day before was Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises“. I concluded that the final chapter in his tour-de-force Batman trilogy ended satisfactorily but was emotionally unfulfilling. Its characters were interesting on certain surfaces but lacked the same level of emotional involvement and raw intensity that the script and cast of “The Dark Knight” (2008) had achieved previously. Where Nolan might have failed with his grandiose epic Richard Attenborough scaled and achieved the greatest heights of success with his 1982 biopic “Gandhi“.
Everything and the kitchen sink was thrown into this extremely large-scale yet inquisitively personal epic. The story of Gandhi’s life is told as he first entered into the world of law in South Africa, where he quickly becomes an easy target for the corrupt and racist police officials. His policy however of non-violent protest eventually manages to change certain laws within the country to positive effect; but such injustices seen in one realm of the British Empire urge him to return to his homeland of India to help fight the cause for independence. Without going into too great a detail about the events of Gandhi’s life whilst in his home country all I will say is that everything a first time viewer could want is presented splendidly. No important speech is missed and no massacre is untold for the screen.
Attenborough’s jewel in the crown of achieving such an incredible feature however is with his casting of the then young Ben Kingsley in the title role. His performance, let alone his appearance, is uncanny to the real-life Mahatma Gandhi. The tone in his voice during public events and speeches is pitched perfectly with the often more intimate scenes he shares with supporting characters. The joy Kingsley brings into Gandhi’s real-life pilgrimage across India is wonderful to watch and encapsulates the viewer into caring about the struggles Gandhi fought for. The British establishment is also portrayed in a more realistic light instead of going for a much easier antagonistic depiction of the empire for onscreen villainy. The politics surrounding India at the time the film is based is captured through the pure emotional appeal of the cast and often also the extras, culminating in some shockingly disturbing sequences featuring public protests.
This loving world that Attenborough set out to create became a mega-hit at the Oscars the following year and it’s difficult not to see why. The life of Gandhi is far more revealing and intimate than first expected, whilst realistically juggling the supreme and far-reaching struggles of his people. Kingsley brings so much sweetness and joy into his performance that the fond memories people have of the real-life figure become all the more believable. This is a biopic that deals not with events of clear-cut motifs such as freedom and justice but instead focuses on one man’s passion for life, and the difficulties he faces with his own private self-doubt. A visually stunning spectacle, “Gandhi” is the quintessential epic of its day.