1982, Movie, PG, 188 mins


Despite an intelligent title performance by Ben Kingsley and impressive cinematography in the manner of David Lean, this huge, clunky biopic offers less than meets the eye. Director Attenborough seeks not to understand but to canonize his subject; as a result, both Gandhi's teachings and the complexities of Indian political history are distorted and trivialized. The film spans decades, opening in South Africa where Mohandas Gandhi (Kingsley) is a struggling attorney victimized by that country's racial policies. Returning to India, he develops a strategy of non-violent civil disobedience that proves more effective than armed struggle in throwing off British imperial rule. The film is at its best in its several melodramatic, large-scale "epic" sequences (Salt March, post-Partition riots, assassination), but Gandhi remains a saintly cipher; other major figures are even more carelessly drawn; e.g., Nehru, who appears as a colorless Gandhi disciple (he was anything but), and Pakistan founder Jinnah, who comes off as a Muslim Darth Vader. African playwright Athol Fugard (Master Harold and the Boys) appears as General Smuts; Candice Bergen is fun in a cameo as American photographer Margaret Bourke-White. leave a comment

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