365 High-Def Days of Oscar: Day 36
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Original Score
THE PLOT THUS FAR
Sir Richard Attenborough’s 1982 multiple-Oscar winner (including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Ben Kingsley) is an engrossing, reverential look at the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi, who introduced the doctrine of nonviolent resistance to the colonized people of India and who ultimately gained the nation its independence. Kingsley is magnificent as Gandhi as he changes over the course of the three-hour film from an insignificant lawyer to an international leader and symbol. Strong on history (the historic division between India and Pakistan, still a huge problem today, can be seen in its formative stages here) as well as character and ideas, this is a fine film.
WHAT WE THOUGHT
Shot largely on four Indian locations, Richard Attenborough’s nine-time Oscar-winning biography of Gandhi is a sweeping epic that takes the viewer back to Britain’s colonial past, covering all major events of Gandhi’s political career from its beginnings in South Africa to the March to the Sea and India’s independence, and contrasting the luxurious lifestyle of the foreign rulers with the poverty of those they governed; that India which, as Gandhi soon realized, not only the British didn’t understand, but whose population also could not have cared less about the activities of the Indian Congress Party, at the time little more than a group of well-to-do city dwellers mentally and socially almost as far removed from the rest of their country as the British. Twenty years in the making, the movie is clearly reverential of Gandhi’s genius, and of the man whose symbolic growth was reverse parallel to his retreat into simplicity, and who for that very reason, and because of his unfaltering commitment to nonviolence on the one hand and India’s independence on the other hand, accomplished what only few people would otherwise have thought possible: to convince the world’s biggest colonial power to give up the crown jewel among its colonies; and to do so in a gesture of friendship and without civil war. The one aspect of Gandhi’s life that falls a bit short here is the effect that his overbearing symbolic status had on his family life, which necessarily had to suffer as a result (unable to cope with his father’s fame and chosen lifestyle, Gandhi’s eldest son, for example, threw himself into a life of alcoholism and prostitution). But Gandhi is not depicted as a saint, and particularly during his early years, we learn about the struggle that went into the formation of the man who later earned the title “Great Soul” (Mahatma). Even anticipating that he might be killed by an assassin’s bullet, Gandhi once said that he would only deserve that title if he could accept that bullet with Rama’s (God’s) name on his lips: fittingly, the movie begins with his assassination and comes full circle at the end, affirming that Gandhi truly was a Great Soul throughout.Attenborough found his perfect Gandhi in Ben Kingsley, who not so much plays but truly *is* the Mahatma; from his appearance to the inflection of his voice, attitudes and gestures. Over the year-long struggles to finance the movie, Attenborough’s first choices for the role had grown too old to convincingly play the young Gandhi in South Africa, but eventually Michael Attenborough pointed his father to Kingsley, then with the Royal Shakespeare Company, who reportedly won the role by meeting Attenborough in full Gandhi makeup at their first get-together, thus instantly convincing him that he had found his man. Yet, despite his gift for mimicry and his part-Indian heritage, Kingsley nevertheless turned to his Indian costars, particularly Rohini Hattangadi, who plays Gandhi’s wife Kasturba, to fine-tune his portrayal; and he recalls in an interview for the movie’s DVD release that the skill he found the most difficult to master was to spin and to talk at the same time. The use of the actual British newsreels covering Gandhi’s visit to England adds to the movie’s sense of authenticity – and emphasizes yet again Ben Kingsley’s achievement in transforming himself into the Mahatma.
In fact, his awardwinning performance so overshadows every other actor in the movie that it would be easy to overlook the fine performances of his costars, all of whom contributed to the movie’s unique quality – to name but a few, Sir John Gielgud, whom Kingsley praises as “a national treasure” (British viceroy Lord Irwin), Roshan Seth (Pandit Nehru), Martin Sheen (NY Times reporter Vincent Walker), Candice Bergen (People Magazine’s Margaret Bourke-White), Ian Charleson (Gandhi’s early friend and colaborator Reverend Andrews), Edward Fox (General Dyer, the man responsible for the massacre at Amritsar, who testified at his court-martial that his intention had been to “teach a lesson that would be heard throughout India”); and Trevor Howard as Judge Broomfield, who had to sentence Gandhi to prison for his outright admission that he was guilty of the charge of advocating sedition because of his belief “that non-cooperation with evil is a duty and British rule in India is evil,” and who nevertheless rose at Gandhi’s entrance into the courtroom instead of making the prisoner rise for him, and commented on the sentence he had to impose that “if … his Majesty’s government should, at some later date, see fit to reduce the term, no one will be better pleased than I.”
The Blu-Ray has the best A/V Quality I’ve seen for an Oscar winner. The cinematography from Billy Williams is represented with one of the best transfers I’ve seen on Blu-Ray. The sole Blu-Ray exclusive special feature is a Picture in Picture commentary track that allows Richard Attenborough to take us through Gandhi’s India. We see the real locations where the film took place and the key turning points in Gandhi’s life. It’s a fascinating take on the usual PiP commentary and I would like to see more films use it in the future.
The rest of the special features are ports from the 25th Anniversary Edition that hit DVD a year or so ago. This film is a long stretch and it’s not for everyone. But, I recommend purchasing this flick as it’s one of the most deserving Best Picture winners in ages.