Film: Gandhi

Whenever I despair, I remember that the way of truth and love has always won. There may be tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they may seem invincible, but in the end, they always fail. Think of it: always.
Mohandas K. Gandhi.

A 1982 Epic Movie directed by Richard Attenborough, Gandhi is the bio-pic of Mohandas K. Gandhi, aka Mahatma Gandhi. The titular role was played by Ben Kingsley in his Star-Making Role. Its story concerns Gandhi as he leads the non-violent fight for India’s independence from the British Empire. Along the way, he earns the respect of much of the world and enemies of all forms.

The story starts with Gandhi as a 24-year-old lawyer in South Africa in 1893. After he is thrown out of a first-class train compartment for having brown skin, Gandhi becomes an activist, agitating for the civil rights of Indians in South Africa. After 20 years in South Africa in which he wins major concessions for the Indians living there, Gandhi returns to India to find himself a hero. He joins the Congress Party campaign for Indian home rule, and eventually becomes its leader, spending thirty years battling the British before finally winning Indian independence. Shortly thereafter, he is assassinated by a Hindu radical for favoring concessions to Pakistan.

This film won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director for Attenborough, Best Actor for Kingsley, and five other Oscars. It holds the record for biggest cast, having around 300,000 people including extras.

Martin Sheen plays an American journalist who reports on Gandhi in both South Africa and India. Candice Bergen is featured prominently towards the end of the film (she is at the scene when Gandhi is murdered) as photo-journalist Margaret Bourke White. A very young Daniel Day-Lewis is onscreen for about three minutes early in the film as a Afrikaner thug who harasses Gandhi on the street.

For the individual, see the page Mahatma Gandhi.


This work shows examples of:

  • Actual Pacifist: Gandhi, obviously. As he states early in the film: "In this cause, I too am prepared to die. There's no cause for which I'm prepared to kill."
  • As You Know: Nehru tells Gandhi that the people are calling him "Mahatma", and helpfully explains for the benefit of the audience that it means "the great soul".
  • Badass Pacifist: The protagonist. (Although his belief that non-violence would work against Adolf Hitler was ill-considered.)
  • Bald of Awesome: Gandhi himself.
  • Biopic: A pretty standard one, covering 55 years of a man's life.
  • Blunt "Yes":
    British officer: You don't think we're just going to walk out of India?
    Gandhi: Yes. In the end, you will walk out.
  • Book Ends: Gandhi's murder is shown at the beginning and again at the end.
  • Commune: Gandhi establishes a communal ashram in South Africa. His wife, who was more enthusiastic about being married to a prosperous lawyer, isn't thrilled about having to work the latrine.
  • Downer Ending: It's shown at the start of the film, already. Gandhi is murdered in the end.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Gandhi, especially when dealing with Smuts the British official and directly after he comes home from South Africa and has to deal with the wealthy congressmen of India - he comes off as a excessively polite and eccentrically wistful, until he starts doing things and moving whole countries right under their noses.
  • Epic Movie
  • Foregone Conclusion: The film starts with Gandhi’s murder.
  • Foreign Correspondent: Although primarily told from the perspective of the title character, large chunks of the story are seen through the eyes of Britons and Americans Charlie, Walker, Mirabehn, and Margaret Bourke-White.
  • General Ripper: General Reginald Dyer, but Gandhi makes it clear that the only difference between in him and the mainstream British colonial treatment of India is in the degree of blatant violence used.
  • Glasses Pull: Jinnah does a High-Class Glass pull after Gandhi says "we must end the campaign" after the non-cooperation campaign led to the lynching of some British Indian policemen.
  • Go and Sin No More: A Hindu comes to Gandhi as he's partaking in a fast and says he (the Hindu) is going to Hell, because he killed a Muslim child in revenge for Muslims killing his son. Gandhi tells the man to to repent by finding a Muslim boy whose parents have been killed, and raise him. But here's the kicker: he's to raise the boy as a Muslim.
  • High-Class Glass: Mohammad Jinnah; see Skunk Stripe below.
  • Insistent Terminology: The "day of prayer and fasting." When Nehru calls it a "general strike," Gandhi corrects him, referring to it as a "day of prayer and fasting." Whatever the terminology, it showed the British Raj just how isolated and helpless it was.
  • Interfaith Smoothie: In-universe. "I am a Muslim and a Hindu and a Christian and a Jew and so are all of you!"
  • Intermission: Once upon a time three-hour movies had them. This one is a good example of how intermissions were used as act breaks. The first act ends with the Amritsar massacre, and Gandhi visiting the blood-spattered scene shortly afterward. After the intermission, Gandhi has become radicalized. Where he once favored home rule under the British crown (and sang "God Save the King" in South Africa), he tells the British authorities that he no longer believes laws are the answer, and now favors independence.
  • Ironic Echo: "It would be uncivil for us to let you make such a long trip for nothing." Gandhi says this to Vince Walker when Walker journeys to Gandhi's home to interview him, then Walker says this to Gandhi when Gandhi is setting off on his walk to the sea to make salt.
  • Mean Brit: Gandhi has to face a lot of them, including probably the meanest of them all: Reginald Dyer.
  • Mononymous Biopic Title
  • Moral Event Horizon: The Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar is a case In-Universe.
  • Music for Courage: Gandhi inspires his fellow Indians to protest discriminatory laws in South Africa with his speech - and a rendition of "God Save the King".
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Gandhi reacts this way after the non-cooperation campaign leads to the death of some British Indian policemen. He then goes on a hunger strike until the campaign ends.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Insists on relieving a servant of the tea set during a meeting with other independence leaders.
  • Oh, Crap: The gathered crowd inside the Jallianwala Bagh just before General Dyer orders to fire.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Most of the British officials Gandhi meets come off this way, Judge Broomfield being the most obvious example.
  • La Résistance: The people of India fighting to throw off the British yoke.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: The trope Gandhi lives for.
  • Same Language Dub: John Ratzenberger's voice is dubbed in his single, brief scene.
  • Scenery Porn: India's landscape is shown almost like a tourist promotion film.
  • Shaming the Mob: Gandhi fasts as he sees his followers act violently, leading them to stop every time.
  • Skunk Stripe: Mohammad Jinnah has both this and a High-Class Glass. Not coincidentally, he is a semi-antagonistic character. He has little regard for Gandhi's habit of dressing and living like a peasant. Later, and more importantly, he opposes Gandhi's desire for a united India, and insists on the partitioning of the subcontinent between Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan.
  • Starts with Their Funeral: The film opens with Gandhi's assassination on Jan. 30, 1948, shows his funeral procession, and then jumps back to 1893 to pick up the story.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Almost literally. Gandhi's desire for a united Indian subcontinent, and his willingness to make concessions to the Indian Muslims (later the Pakistanis), were the reason for his murder by an extreme Hindu nationalist.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The various factions in India argue about how to proceed against the British. Hindus and Muslims descend into open war against each other after the British announce that they are getting out. Gandhi goes to great lengths to preserve a united India, offering the Muslims not only the prime minister position but every ministry in the cabinet, but the Hindus won't stand for that. So the subcontinent is divided between India and Pakistan.