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The Conscience of Mankind
by Asa Butcher
2008-01-30 09:33:56
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Directed by Richard Attenborough
Columbia Pictures, 1982

"In the words of General George C. Marshall, the American Secretary of State, "Mahatma Gandhi had become the spokesman for the conscience of mankind, a man who made humility and simple truth more powerful than empires." - Edward R. Murrow [at Gandhi's funeral]

On the 60th anniversary of the assassination of Mohandas K. Gandhi it would be remiss to overlook Sir Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, one of the most enthralling, honest and beautiful bio-epics to win multiple Oscars, including Best Picture. At 183-minutes you may fear a severe case of numb buttocks, but there is certainly no danger because a number of scenes will have you squirming in your seat or even perched on the edge of it.

It has been many, many years since I first watched Gandhi and I was surprised just how little had remained with me, but following my recent viewing I know it will never leave me again. There are moments, especially the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, that left me ashamed of some moments in British history, then there were moments like the funeral procession that left you speechless, and then there were the words of Gandhi, personified by Ben Kingsley, that filled you with hope for humanity even today.

Ben Kingsley is awesome; it is one of the best performances of the early-1980s and you can't fail to see how he beat Jack Lemmon, Peter O'Toole, Dustin Hoffman and Paul Newman to win the 1982 Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Kingsley made his movie debut ten years earlier in Fear Is the Key, but this was followed by a decade in television, so Gandhi became the film to truly jumpstart his career in Hollywood.

It didn't take me too long to forget that I was watching a film rather than a documentary thanks to Kingsley's complete transformation into the major political and spiritual leader of India and man who could make his own clothes, although - as he jokingly claimed - it's not that much of an achievement. Kingsley looked quite comfortable in the traditional Indian dhoti and round glasses that are intrinsically connected with Gandhi's appearance.

I was going to make a joke that the costumes in Gandhi must have been easy to do, but then I discovered that the film also won an Oscar for Best Costume Design, so I shall shut up. The costumes, the sets and the whole look of the film plunges you back to British-ruled India, with its soldiers, citizens, viceroys and environment forcing your senses to believe they have travelled back in time - there was one point when I thought the taste of dust was in mouth. The fact that the Academy awarded Gandhi for its Art Direction-Set Decoration and Cinematography is proof of the perfection.

I forget how many times I wished to be watching certain scenes on cinema screen, to be overwhelmed by the scale and visuals created by Sir Richard Attenborough as he takes us on the journey of a country's independence. As I mentioned at the beginning, the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre is a horrific scene portraying the butchering of a thousand defenceless men, women and children at the hands of Brigadier Dyer (Edward Fox) and the British army, but I would dearly love to experience the emotional impact of the sequence in a cinema…

Attenborough is known more for acting than directing, yet Gandhi won him his first Oscar for Direction, plus the Best Picture award since he was one of the producers, and it was another worthy choice by the Academy, even though the Oscars do favour bio-pics, films over three-hours in length and have the hero die at the end (beginning in this case), which meant Gandhi was a certain to win.

Naturally the synopsis of the film would be a biography, but it doesn't start in Gandhi's childhood rather in South Africa 1893 and moves to India 1915 after 40-minutes. However, the film does then follow Gandhi's life, his faithful wife Kasturba Gandhi (superbly portrayed by Rohini Hattangadi) and all of the players in India's history. The players provided the perfect opportunity for a solid cast featuring British greats, such as Sir John Gielgud, Sir John Mills, Nigel Hawthorne, Ian Charleson, Geraldine James, Trevor Howard and a young Daniel Day-Lewis, while Candice Bergen and Martin Sheen provided the substantial US support.

I really could write another few pages on this film, praising each and every aspect, but your time would be best spent watching this three-hour masterpiece about a man who changed from an insignificant lawyer to an international leader and symbol. I was left breathless at the dedication and stubbornness of one man's desire to see his country free and to accomplish it through nonviolence… An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

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Simon2008-01-30 09:50:32
Gandhi made one great film and you never heard of him again.

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