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 Indias 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 in 1948, with Gandhi being assassinated by a Hindu radical for favoring concessions to Pakistan. We then see a flashback to 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 an Afrikaner thug who harasses Gandhi on the street. And as everyone knows, the true star of the film was Margaret Bourke White's dubbed cab driver John Ratzenberger.
For the individual, see the page Mahatma Gandhi.
Compare Malcolm X, another biopic about a murdered civil rights activist with a similar runtime (clocking in at just ten minutes longer), released ten years after this one.
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. But, my friends, there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill."
- All Women Are Lustful: A minor example with Ba. When being interviewed by Margaret Bourke-White, Ba explains that several times, Gandhi had tried to abstain from sex with her and failed until he made a "solemn vow". Bourke-White, attempting to confirm what she heard asks her if he's ever broken it. Ba get a hopeful little smile and simply says "Not yet."
- 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.
- Bookends: Gandhi's murder is shown at the beginning and end of the film.
- Brownface: Ben Kingsley, despite being half-Indian with parentage from the same region as Gandhi, is fair-skinned in real-life; he darkened it for the role.
- 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.
- Cool Car: Brigadier-General Dyer's Rolls Silver Ghost. He acquired in Real Life a similar model around 1915, which he rode through the war against raiders and arms-smugglers in Seistan and afterwards. In the film the car is played anachronistically by a 1922 Silver Ghost.
- Distinction Without a Difference: Early on, as strategies against the British are being discussed, Gandhi proposes a prolonged, nation-wide period of prayer and fast. The others, getting excited, ask if he means for the whole country to go on strike. Gandhi reiterates that what he's suggesting is the whole country prays and fasts, although this could have the same effect as an official strike.
- Downer Ending: It's shown at the start of the film, already. Gandhi is murdered in the end. Also, the subcontinent of India split into Pakistan and India as religious and political tension rose after the end of British Occupation.
- Dramatically Missing the Point: It's a masterpiece of cognitive dissonance, though, to see the Hindi militants hitting the opposition over the head with signs reading "Long Live Gandhi".
- When meeting with the heads of the Raj after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Gandhi tells them that all people would prefer a bad government of their own choosing over a good government of an "alien power". The Brigadier says that India is British and they are not an alien power. Gandhi and Patel get amused little smiles while the others are internally facepalming. Even the British Viceroy recognizes how stupid this was to say and tries to get back on topic.
- 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 excessively polite and eccentrically wistful, until he starts doing things and moving whole countries right under their noses.
- Epic Movie: The Epic being the result of the movie's three hours long screentime that follows the plot of Gandhi and his deeds.
- First-Name Basis: The Anglican priest Charles Andrews, known in real life as being Gandhi's closest friend at the time, is the only one who calls him by his given name rather than by an honorific epithet (Gandhiji, Bapu, Mahatma). He even shortens it to "Mohan" (equivalent to Mike or Greg, instead of Michael or Gregory).
- 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 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.
- Grin of Audacity: Gandhi is good at this, although it's a cute little smile rather than a grin. (Truth In Television and Ben Kingsley does it perfectly.) He gives it to menacing British authorities when he knows he's right. It's extremely disarming, especially in response to "You're under arrest!"
- High-Class Glass: Mohammad Jinnah; see Skunk Stripe below.
- Historical Villain Downgrade: When questioned by the Hunter Commission, General Dyer says wounded people who wanted to surrender were to be given quarters (answer which Commission members treat with incredulous irony). In Real Life his answer was far more callous: "It was not my job. Hospitals were open and they could have gone there."
- 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.
- The Mean Brit: Gandhi has to face a lot of them, including probably the meanest of them all in India then: Reginald Dyer.
- Mighty Whitey: Gandhi actively seeks to avert this trope by telling Charlie to take the post he was offered in Fiji (to investigate the mistreatment of Indian indentured laborers). He tells Charlie that Indians must feel strong enough to gain independence without the direct help of English people. It's clearly very difficult for both of them (in real life, Charlie was widely regarded as Gandhi's closest friend).
- 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: He 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.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: General Smuts would rather negotiate with Gandhi than to risk having the situation with South Africa's Indian population continue to fester and possibly spin violently out of control. Similarly, Judge Broomfield preferred the lightest allowable sentence for Gandhi because of the latter's use of non-violent resistance rather than terrorism to achieve his aims.
- 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.
- Serious Business: Salt to many Indians. Hence the Salt Marches.
- 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.
- By the end of the movie, when his break with Gandhi becomes final, though, hes old enough that all of his wear is white and not just the stripe.
- 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.
- Worthy Opponent: Jan Smuts and British officials regard Gandhi this way.