Thursday, February 24, 2011

689. GANDHI (1982)

Running Time: 188 minutes
Directed By: Richard Attenborough
Written By: John Briley
Main Cast: Ben Kingsley, Rohini Hattangadi, Roshan Seth, Saeed Jaffrey, Candice Bergen


Next up in our week dedicated to Best Picture winners is "Gandhi", a film that my wife has been raving about ever since she saw it over a year ago. The bottom line in this train of thought is that, my wife and I don't always have the same taste in films.

The film is obviously a biopic telling the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi (Kingsley), so I'll try to keep this plot summary short and sweet, as I don't feel the need to outline Gandhi's life. The film opens with the assassination of Gandhi, followed by his funeral procession, which looks spectacular on film and boasts around 400,000 extras. From there we travel backwards to Mohandas' work in South Africa in the late 1800s, at a time when a man of color couldn't walk down the street without a pass. Gandhi's philosophy was peace and he always stuck to that policy and in South Africa he changed the way the government treated Indians by holding non-violent protests and campaigns. Gandhi then traveled back to his native India, where he would become aware of the problems that his fellow Indian people faced, most notably being repressed by the rule of the British Government. Ghandi would go on to fight for years for the freedom of Indians and urged (once again through peaceful, always non-violent ways) the British to leave India. Once that hurdle is tackled, the film turns it's attentions to the fighting between the Muslims and Hindus and the separation of India and Pakistan. In the end, we make our way back to Gandhi's assassination.

Obviously this is a biopic which deals with a lot of important events in the history of our world, so I'll spare the "Spoiler Alert" headline, as I think most of us know what happened to Gandhi and what he accomplished.

Actually, maybe I shouldn't be so quick to jump to conclusions, as I was one of the probable few who actually didn't know much of what Gandhi accomplished or that he was even assassinated. I hate to make that admission, but it is true and I mean, come on, even the film was released prior to my birth. In that respect, I will give this movie some credit for being a good history lesson for me, as it obviously taught me a lot about who Gandhi was and what he stood for. This is certainly an inspirational film. Gandhi triumphed with the ideals of peace and non-violence and was always prepared to die for whatever cause it was that he was fighting for. Whether it was getting freedom in South Africa or India or fasting until the Muslims and Hindus halted their war, Gandhi was a passionate man when it came to peace, love and unity. Kingsley does one hell of a job transforming himself into Gandhi and there are facts to prove it, like that he dropped an enormous amount of weight, taking up yoga and learning to spin cotton. If only he had learned Indian, his portrayal would have been spot on. The movie exudes power and importance, as the whole thing just feels big and you know you're watching something that had a lot of hard work put into it.

Now lets talk about the negatives, in my opinion. I'm no history buff, so please forgive me for assuming, but I would be willing to bet that Gandhi didn't speak English, nor did the hundreds of other Indian characters in the film. This is something that really took me out of the film. This is a big pet peeve with me, as far as movies go. I hate watching a film set in a foreign land, in a land where I'm certain the people didn't speak English and seeing the actors do just that. "The Pianist" was another blaring example of this, but that film was so good, it was easier for me to overlook. I read in the book where it took Attenborough some twenty years to get Ghandi made and read quotes that said "I never wanted to direct. I just wanted to direct this movie". I read stories about Kingsley going through all the things I mentioned above to become Gandhi. I watched the movie and saw the film maker's obviously strive to make sure the historical accuracies were dead on and that the sets and music and everything was just right, but then they make the movie in English? I realize it's probably not as easy as all that to learn Indian, but maybe if they had at least had his big speeches in Gandhi's native tongue. At least then it would've been a little wink to the audience that "Yeah, we realize he didn't speak English, but here's, at least, a little something to make our film a little more authentic."

I don't know, maybe it wouldn't have mattered, but it just seems really lame when a film set in India has it's actors speaking English. It just doesn't make a lot of sense to me. In the end, this film really just seemed to drag on and get a little bit like doing homework. I was grateful for what this film taught me, as far as world history and about the Mahatma, but the film itself was a bit of a hard watch. I'm not saying it was entirely boring, because it wasn't, it just had it's dull moments and in the end, I wouldn't call it a favorite or anything like that.

RATING: 5/10 We'll slice it down the middle. If you're interested in your history or just want to know who Gandhi was, it's brilliant. If you want a good movie, it might not be the one you seek.


February 24, 2011 3:51pm


  1. Someone posted a comment here and instead of hitting the "publish" button, I accidentally hit the "delete" button. Sorry, it's been a long day.

    Anyway, they were questioning my argument that Ghandi didn't speak English and basically stating that he "of course" spoke English, because the movie states very early on that he studied law in England. Yes I realize that Ghandi understoond the English language, but HIGHLY doubt that he spoke it in his day to day life and I have even higher doubts that every person living in India at the time of Ghandi, that has small speaking roles in this film, spoke English either.

    In fact, the tidbit that I found online, following the watching of Ghandi stated the following:

    "Gandhi himself was a multi-lingual personality. He could understand Tamil, Kannada, Malayam, Telugu, Gujarathi, Hindhi, Marathi. He had learned Tamil to read and understand Thirukkural directly. He always preached people not to forget their own languages and use english for want of job, or anything else."

    So if the above is a true statement and Ghandi really did preach people not to forget their own language, then I'm sure he himself didn't speak a language that was not native to him.

    Oh and sorry for claiming that "Indian" was a language. My mistake.

  2. go to youtube. many of gandhi's original speeches are there. all in English. like I said earlier, most Indians speak English. makes sense since there are so many languages there, & no official language, that english would be the most common language there(english is the only language spoken in most schools there, the British influence goes back very far. so English is certainly not a non native language to Gandhi, esp with his family's background - he wasn't from a low caste, but a very educated one)

    with all the many languages in India, if you were adressing the entire nation, trust me, English would the language that would have the farthest reach. and that's the language gandhi used.

    I've found it harder to get around many European countries with only English than to get around India with only English.

  3. I dont doubt that Gandhi could speak English or that he spoke it during speeches when he was addressing the world, I just highly doubt that he was speaking English in private conversation with his friends and his wife. I read somewhere that his final words, when he got shot, were "He ram" meaning "Oh God" in English.

    I've found so many pieces of information that point to the fact that he used Hindi or Gujarati. I'm not necesarilly disputing Gandhi either. I'm just saying that for a movie set primarily in India, for the whole thing to have been in English just threw me off and didn't quite make sense.

    I had the same problem with "The Pianist", but I was much more interested in the subject matter of that film, than I was with "Gandhi" and thought the movie was an overall much better movie, that I was able to look past it.

    Trust me, I'm not disputing what you're saying and thank you for correcting me where I faltered. But do you really think EVERYBODY in early 1900s India spoke English. I'm not saying it's impossible, because like you said they were under the thumb of the British, I'm just saying it's hard to believe, especially when Gandhi was protesting for the British to leave India, and making an effort to get back to his roots. You'd think he would want to communicate with his fellow natives in their native tongue.

    Thanks again for the education and for the input.


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