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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Gandhi

Starring: Ben Kingsley, John Gielgud
Director: Richard Attenborough
Rated: PG
RunTime: 187 Minutes
Release Date: December 1982
Genres: Classic, Drama

*Also starring: Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen, Trevor Howard, Edward Fox, John Mills, Ian Charleson, Athol Fugard, Saeed Jaffrey, Rohini Hattangandy

Review by Brian Koller
2½ stars out of 4

The life of Mahatma Gandhi is inspirationally depicted in this three hour plus biography, which won an incredible eight Academy Awards. Ben Kingsley was plucked from obscurity by director Richard Attenborough to play the legendary spiritual leader, a proponent of Indian independence, religious harmony, and nonviolence.

The film takes place over a half century, with Gandhi's aging made fully credible by outstanding makeup and costumes. The story begins with Gandhi as a young lawyer in South Africa, where his status as an Indian makes him subject to Apartheid laws. Gandhi develops his philosophy of nonviolent resistance to authority, which makes him a hero in the cause of Indian independence from England.

Most of the many characters in this lengthy epic can be put into four different categories. There are the segregationalist Western politicians, alternately smug and despairing. There are the pro-independence Hindu activists and politicians, who must be taught nonviolence by Gandhi. There are Western press and clergy who are sympathetic to Gandhi's cause. And there are Gandhi's devoted followers, most notably his wife (Rohini Hattangady) and adopted daughter (Geraldine James). Ironically, in a film whose theme is that everyone is equal, the famous actors of European descent with small roles are given top billing over Indian actors with larger parts.

The problem with making a film about heroes is the difficulty in presenting them as human beings, complete with flaws. Any eccentricities that they have must be lovable, such as Gandhi's insistence upon adopting the dress and lifestyle of an Indian peasant. Attenborough attempts to humanize Gandhi by presenting a heated argument with his wife, in which he orders her to leave the commune because she won't clean toilets. But the spat is immediately settled, the wife happily reconciled and relenting, and the behavior of both is saintly thereafter.

There is also a natural tendency to portray the British as arrogant snobs. This is often avoided by Attenborough, but he sometimes slips: John Gielgud is a sneering blueblood, and a needless scene is inserted with preppy cricket players. But the religious hatred between Hindus and Moslems is realistically presented, with the resulting sorrow of the aging Indian independence leaders effective and credible.

In a film with a running time of 188 minutes, there are bound to be some slow moments. Gandhi and wife repeat their wedding ceremony for a reporter, and the wife's death is drawn out. On the other hand, the scenes with Gandhi fasting are well done.

Richard Attenborough was most famous as an actor prior to making "Gandhi", a project which he had been pushing for years prior to production. He directed "Cry Freedom" a few years later, a film with similar themes involving South African civil rights activist and martyr Steven Biko. Attenborough has also continued his acting career, including a memorable character in "Jurassic Park".

Perhaps due more to its values than its actual quality, "Gandhi" won a mountain of Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Kingsley), Best Original Screeplay (John Briley), Best Cinematography (Billy Williams and Ronnie Taylor), Best Editing (John Bloom), Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.

Copyright 1995 Brian Koller

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