Gandhi is the first British made Best Picture winner with a predominantly Indian cast. Mahatma Gandhi was the most influential practitioner of nonviolent resistance and passive protest. His methods would go on to inspire such civil rights activists as Martin Luther King. I’ve known about the Indian leader for years, but I only saw fragments of the movie when I was in school. Gandhi is of course another sprawling 3 hour epic with great production value. Gandhi won prestigious awards like Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay along with technical categories like Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, and Film Editing. I’m not surprised it won Best Picture, but everyone (even the director) agrees that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is the more timeless film that should’ve won. Richard Attenborough would go on to star in Jurassic Park after developing a friendship with Steven Spielberg.
Even still, Gandhi was a dream project for Attenborough. Several decades went by with similar movies like Lawrence of Arabia being made in its place. Non-Indians like Alec Guinness were considered to play Gandhi, but thankfully they went with the relatively unknown half Indian, half British Ben Kingsley. With the help of Oscar nominated makeup, Kingsley goes through a startling transformation. Mohandas K. Gandhi was once a young lawyer with hair and more English attire before embracing his Indian heritage with the bald head, mustache, glasses, and loincloth he became known for. Gandhi explores major events throughout his life including being thrown from a South African train, inspiring nonviolent protests, witnessing the aftermath of a violent massacre, and fasting for peace in his country. The movie focuses on Gandhi’s just cause to make India independent from British rule. I do find it a little ironic that a movie about resisting the British would follow such a pro-British movie like Chariots of Fire.
Nevertheless, Gandhi has an all-star British cast that complements the mostly unknown Indian cast. It was a major career boost for actors like Bernard Hill and even Daniel Day-Lewis. Gandhi is supported by his Indian wife, children, and friends like Roshan Seth as the anti-colonial Jawaharlal Nehru. British leaders like Edward Fox as the ruthless General Dyer try to resist Gandhi with violence, but he has many non-Indian supporters. Martin Sheen and Candice Bergen play journalists who document his accomplishments. There’s also his English daughter Mirabehn and his Christian priest friend Charlie played by Ian Charleson in his second consecutive Best Picture winner. Gandhi’s complicated faith is explored with a mix of Hindu, Muslim, and Christian principles. His last big fast is in response to a civil war between Hindu and Muslim Indians. The movie begins with Gandhi’s assassination, but you can’t fully appreciate the impact until the end. Gandhi goes to show what one small Indian man in a loincloth is capable of.