Directed by Richard Attenborough
I always worry when I’m watching a movie about a culture that isn’t my own, especially when it’s made by someone also outside that culture. I worry that I will “learn” something inaccurate or get the wrong idea about that culture. I had seen Gandhi before, but I was probably fourteen or fifteen and impressionable, so I was worried about how Indians view the movie and whether I could watch it comfortably as an American. But the day I picked it up from the library, an Indian coworker of mine said, “Oh, you are going to watch that movie? It is such an excellent movie. So well done.” Later that night, a British friend of mine whose parents are from India and Pakistan asked me what I was doing. I told him I was watching Gandhi. His response? “I love that movie.” So while there might be historical inaccuracies or only part of the story told, I at least know that Indians do not find this movie offensive, which does make me glad.
So what’s the story? Mohandas Gandhi, a young Indian lawyer educated in London, experiences racial prejudice in South Africa and decides that it is unacceptable for anyone to be treated that way. He begins a protest of the way Indians in South Africa are treated. His activism doesn’t stop there, however. He goes back to India and becomes the leader of the long struggle against British rule.
The Good: Ben Kingsley makes an excellent Gandhi, both young and old. He takes us on the same journey that Gandhi made, from rash young man to wise old leader, full of patience and kindness. It is an excellent performance.
I’m not going to name all of the people who did a good job of acting, because in a three-hour movie with lots of small roles filled by famous or soon-to-be-famous people (including Daniel Day-Lewis!), there is lots of good acting. I will mention Rohini Hattangadi, though. She played Ba, Gandhi’s wife, going from a young woman unsure if her husband is doing the right thing or if he has gone crazy to a woman who believes fully in what he does and supports him completely. She was impressive.
I loved the cinematography. There are times when it shows the grandeur of India, the huge scale of that country, and other times when it is intimate, showing how one man was able to make such a difference in such a large, diverse country. If I hadn’t already wanted to visit India someday, the cinematography of this movie would have made me want to go.
The makeup people did an excellent job of making Gandhi and Ba look older as time passed. I might have thought that the old and young were played by different people, especially as Ben Kingsley looks less like himself and more like Gandhi as he “aged”.
The Bad: Those same makeup people who did such a good job on Gandhi did a less-than-stellar job on Gandhi’s associates Nehru, Jinnah, and Patel. They didn’t age at all until the very end, even though they had been working for independence for thirty years. If this was done on purpose to show how much more quickly people age when they are living a lifestyle of poverty, than I suppose it was okay. But even if you are wealthy, you age over time, not all at once.
What happened to Gandhi’s sons? They are shown at the beginning of the movie in South Africa, but then we never see them again. There was nothing about the sons to make them a huge plot point, but I really did have to wonder if they all died, since they don’t seem to be anywhere around Gandhi and his wife for the rest of his life. Leaving them out altogether would have been one thing, but to show them once and then never again is bad storytelling.
The Ugly: I’m not disputing that Gandhi was a great man. He truly was. It takes an amazing kind of person to struggle for independence without fighting and to inspire an entire nation to do the same. His story is an incredible one. But except for one scene where he is angry at his wife, he is shown as having no weaknesses. He is made out to be a saint. I’m not trying to insult anyone or tear Gandhi down, but no one is that perfect, which made me feel like the movie was only semi-factual. I may be wrong; I know very little about the Mahatma. He may have been perfect. But because I was feeling that throughout the movie, I couldn’t immerse myself completely in the experience, so I’m going to stand firm in my belief that it was a weakness for this movie.
Oscars Won: Best picture; best actor in a leading role (Ben Kingsley); best director; best writing, screenplay written directly for the screen; best cinematography; best art direction-set decoration; best costume design; best film editing.
Other Oscar Nominations: Best sound; best music, original score; best makeup.