DVD Review: Gandhi: 25th Anniversary Special Edition
By Adnan Tezer Mar 8, 2007, 14:53 GMT
Gandhi is a riveting story about activism, politics, religious tolerance and freedom, depicting the life and times of Mahatma Gandhi - the Indian political leader who managed to free his country from the British rule using peaceful means and thus giving hope and inspiration for generations to come. ...more
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Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, a labor of love that took nearly 20 years to make it to the screen, is one of the last true epics that spans decades yet keeps you tied to an emotional, human anchor. That anchor would be Gandhi himself, Mohandas Gandhi or Mahatma “Great soul” Gandhi as he was referred to later on in his life by the people of India.
Winner of eight Academy Awards including Best Picture (1982), Best Director (Attenborough) and Best Actor (Ben Kingsley as Gandhi), Gandhi has been released for a second time on DVD, this time however as a glorious 2 disc set celebrating its 25th anniversary that has to be one of the best DVDs released in 2007.
The film chronicles the leader of the nonviolent resistance movement against British colonial rule in India during the first half of the 20th century. It opens with an appropriate statement from Attenborough stating, “No man’s life can be encompassed in one telling…least of all Gandhi’s…” That keys the viewer in that this will not be an all-encompassing bio of Gandhi, but rather a portrait of the key events that led him to become one of the most remarkable men in all of human history.
The film starts at the end with Gandhi’s assassination in 1948 by a crazed Hindu that disapproved of Gandhi’s tolerance for all religions. There is a majestic, sprawling funeral scene, which is attended by politicians and dignitaries from all over the world. By using this technique, Attenborough whets the appetite for those who may not have much knowledge of the Mahatma. We are curious as to who is such a man that was seemingly loved and adored by millions.
It goes back to the pivotal life-changing event in Gandhi’s life: in 1893, he is shown as a young Indian attorney riding aboard a South African train. Although he possesses a first class ticket he is ordered to go to third class because of his status as a “kaffir” even though he is only dark skinned, not black which the epithet refers to. He refuses and is promptly thrown off the train. This is but one of several shattering moments of the film but is likely the one moment where you will be sucked in to the man’s story.
Attenborough wisely lingers on Kingsley after he gets up from the train station pavement and combined with Kingsley’s facial expressions along with masterful lighting, you can see and feel the man’s bewilderment and sadness. You know that he will never be the same man again and that something has changed inside of him. If this doesn’t gut you inside emotionally, you might as well stop watching the film. There is a point to be made that a well-educated adult Gandhi MUST of have known about the racial inequality in South Africa. However, the scene works because it sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Gandhi learns that the laws in South Africa are biased against Indians and is inspired to bring about change in the laws. He uses a revolutionary idea, that being using non-violent insubordination, as a means to achieve his goal. This would be the man’s hallmark, one that would inspire the great Martin Luther King, Jr. several decades later in the fight for African-American rights in the United States. After several arrests and worldwide notoriety, the South African government relents by recognizing Indians as equals, however not for the native blacks of the country.
Gandhi returns to his homeland of India where he is given a hero’s welcome. Gandhi then sets out to gain India’s independence from the colonial rule of Great Britain. It proves to be even more difficult than his struggles in South Africa. While he holds firm to his non-violent practices, he finds that the majority of his opposition does not. However, he is sure where the truth lies in each situation, and is quite willing to stick by his beliefs even if it kills him, which ironically, they do.
His plan of civil disobedience is at first ignored by the British. However, when the British powers that be realize that Gandhi will not be deterred even by imprisonment, they make several critical errors that they assume will intimidate Gandhi and his vast followers. Two bloody incidents in particular, though difficult to watch, turn the worldwide tide in favor of Gandhi’s cause.
Attenborough wisely does not shy away from the violence inflicted upon the Indians and the retribution that a small group of Indians inflict on a group of British police officers, much to Gandhi’s disgust.
At this point, Gandhi’s struggles have become worldwide news and many of his followers include several reporters and journalists. They are personified by Martin Sheen, who appears briefly as a reporter who encounters Gandhi in South Africa and again in India. Through his reporting skills and witnessing first-hand the struggles of Gandhi and his followers, Britain comes under scrutiny worldwide.
When World War II breaks out, the Brits realize they can no longer devote so much energy to India, and they relent to Gandhi’s wishes. India is granted its independence, but religious differences make the ultimate victory short-lived. Religious strife between the Hindus and Muslims lead to the division of the country with India being Hindu dominated and Pakistan being Muslim dominated.
Even with the split, civil war erupts between the two nations. Gandhi would spend his last days trying to bring about peace and equality between the two, but his actions would upset many fanatics on both sides, and eventually leads one crazed Hindu to assassinate him.
The film logs in at a lengthy 191 minutes but to its credit, keeps your interest at a high pitch like David Lean’s classic epics Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago. It’s impossible not be moved by the acting, script, editing, cinematography, costumes and direction of the film. This would be Richard Attenborough’s crowning achievement as a director and deservedly so. He had been a working actor for nearly 20 years before he became obsessed with directing Gandhi in 1962.
Although he had directed four films after 1969, including the star-studded but uneven WWII epic A Bridge Too Far (1977), it wasn’t until Gandhi that he made his greatest work behind the camera. After toiling for two decades to find financing followed by a grueling six month shoot, mostly on location in India, he was rewarded with Best Director and Best Picture at the Oscars beating out international smashes like E.T. and Tootsie that year.
Ben Kingsley is nothing short of magnificent in the role of Gandhi, which put him on the map as an actor. It’s one of the rare roles where not only does one feel the soul of a real human being channeled through an actor, but you can’t imagine ANYONE else but Kingsley playing the role.
A virtual unknown, Kingsley deservedly walked off with the Best Actor award beating out four established legends including Jack Lemmon, Peter O’ Toole, Dustin Hoffman and Paul Newman.
The supporting cast does just that as British cinematic heavyweights John Gielgud, John Mills, Edward Fox and Trevor Howard give the British side instant credibility while American sympathies for Gandhi are represented by Martin Sheen as a reporter and Candice Bergman as legendary photographer Margaret Bourke-White. Look for Geraldine James as Madeleine Slade, the daughter of an English Admiral who devoted her life to Gandhi and Rohini Hattangadi in a remarkable turn as Gandhi’s loyal wife Kasturba. Just for fun, see if you can catch then unknowns Daniel Day-Lewis and John Ratzenberger in brief roles.
Make no mistake; Gandhi is the only character that is given any sort of focus or arc. If there were another criticism that could be made, it would be that the other characters are there just to further Gandhi’s development. Despite that, most of the supporting cast is given at least one scene to make themselves memorable enough to stick out in your mind.
Sony has done a phenomenal job of importing the extras from the previous release of the film and adding a treasure chest full of new ones. Among the imports are a 19 minute featurette “Ben Kingsley talks about Gandhi”, a 5 ½ minute photo montage of the shoot, a theatrical trailer, a 2 minute montage of Gandhi’s inspirational quotes and 11 minutes of vintage newsreel footage of Gandhi including brief snippets of speeches and interviews. Watch these after you’ve seen the film and you’ll truly understand why many believed that Gandhi’s spirit was being channeled through Ben Kingsley.
To Sony’s credit, they included what many had been hoping for, that being a full-length running commentary with Attenborough. It is a joy to listen to as he takes you through the long and sometimes painful history of the film. Attenborough also provides a brief intro to the film.
There is a gallery of vintage lobby cards from when the film was released in November 1982, as well as a link to the detailed Wikipedia entry on Gandhi, and an interactive feature “Milestones in the life of Gandhi” that allows you to go through a historical timeline of events in his life while highlighting the locations in India where they occurred.
There are eight new featurettes all running between five and 20 minutes. They include “From the Director’s Chair”, “Designing Gandhi”, “In Search of Gandhi”, “Looking Back”, “Madeleine Slade: An Englishwoman Abroad”, “Reflections on Ben”, “Shooting an Epic in India” and “The Funeral” which goes into fascinating detail of how Attenborough staged the breathtaking funeral sequence shown at the beginning of the film that contained 400,000 Indian extras, still a record number of extras (NON-CGI) for any film.
If anything is made clear from the extras, it is how humble and gracious Attenborough is to this day, at some points admitting that he made “several poor films” as an actor so that he could keep raising money to finance the film when no film studio wanted anything to do with it and, to my astonishment, going so far as to honestly declare that he felt that E.T. was “more entitled” to win Best Picture that year than Gandhi and as a “piece of cinema”, E.T. “far surpassed Gandhi.”
It is truly remarkable how well the film and Gandhi’s ultimate messages of non-violence and a true sense of right and wrong as a means of bringing about world change has aged after 25 years, and in our post 9/11 world, it just might be even more important today than at any other time in our history. It’s a shame that films like this just aren’t made anymore. Despite being a double dip, this is more than worth the upgrade.