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Reviewer: Eternality Tan

Director: Richard Attenborough

Stars:Ben Kingsley, John Gielgud, Candice Bergen

Released: 2nd December 1982 (UK)

“An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

Apparently twenty years in the making, Gandhi was a passion project of director Richard Attenborough. The long and arduous process of bringing the inspiring story of one of twentieth-century’s greatest men to the big screen perhaps reflects the courage and sheer tenacity of India’s most famous freedom fighter, only that he was fighting with and for non-violence to put an end to British rule.

Attenborough’s attention to historical detail is extraordinary, but it is his restrained and empathetic direction that brings an earnest and sweeping quality to the film. This British-Indian production of quite epic proportions is a solid three hours well spent. It is both engaging and insightful at the same time, at least much more so than a history class with a boring teacher.

It chronicles a young Gandhi inspiring change in South Africa, before he returns to India to begin an incredible journey that embodies the spirit of humanity. His embrace of different religions and social classes as equal, and his philosophy of nonviolent aggression have become legendary. It is thus interesting to see how it works (or not work out) in this biographical dramatization.

Attenborough depicts Gandhi in a sympathetic light. In the film, he is a man of great wisdom, but is often misunderstood by the public. He goes on hunger strikes to make his fellow men understand the value of harmony and unity. He succeeds, and by some measure, fails. His legacy will withstand the test of time, but in truth his people (and humanity in general) have failed him. Ethnic divisions and violence all around the world still continue till this day.

Ben Kingsley, who won an Oscar for his stunning performance, masterfully reconstructs himself as Gandhi. He lives and breathes not just the character, but the icon. Richard Schickel of TIME Magazine commented that “in playing Gandhi, an actor must be less concerned with physical verisimilitude than with spiritual presence, and here Kingsley is nothing short of astonishing.” It is indeed a towering display of restrained yet purposeful acting that renews our belief in Gandhi’s teachings.

The film rouses one’s emotions, be it horrible scenes of massacre, or the sacrifices that Gandhi makes. It is an accessible film, geared towards the mainstream audience, but it never loses sight of Gandhi as a person. Winning the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director, Gandhi also serves up a rich cultural concoction of exotic landscapes and beautiful music by Ravi Shankar. It is quite simply one of the most inspiring pictures to come out of the 1980s.

Verdict: A sprawling epic on the great man filmed with beauty, restraint, and empathy.

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