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"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 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 for Nothing: Gandhi discusses this during his fast, lamenting the Hindu-Muslim violence and fearing that he's witnessing the collapse of everything he fought for. The violence eventually stops and he ends his fast, although the Partition of India is carried out and Gandhi spends the remaining years of his life trying to reconcile both nations before his assassination.
  • 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."
  • An Aesop:
    • Subjugation by a colonial power is terrible no matter the good intentions.
    • While pacifism is hard, it is better than violence as a means to achieving freedom.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: When Dyer claims he was willing to help any of the wounded who applied for it after the massacre, a member of the Hunter Commission asks him this, which he has no answer for:
    General, how does a child shot with a 303 Lee-Enfield apply for help?
  • 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).
    • Also Gandhi's disciples, such as the long line of men who were willing to be bludgeoned half to death, one after the other, when protesting at the salt works. They neither flinched nor fought back.
  • Bait-and-Switch Character Intro: While waiting for passengers to disembark from the train and describing Madeleine Slade (Mirabehn) as the daughter of a wealthy British Naval Officer and from a prestigious family we see a well to do looking white woman getting out of a first class compartment. Then the real Madeleine turns around having just emerged from the third class carriage and wearing simple Indian garb.
  • Biopic: A pretty standard one, covering 55 years of a man's life.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • On one hand, Gandhi lives to see India break free from British rule and is lauded throughout history as a luminary.
    • On the other hand, Gandhi sees his dream of a United India fall apart, with Pakistan breaking away from India. And Gandhi himself is shot and killed by a Hindu nationalist.
  • Blunt "Yes": Gandhi during a negotiation with the British.
    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.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Both the British authorities and many of Gandhi's fellow Indian nationalists initially see him as something of a harmless, ineffectual buffoon for living and dressing like a peasant, his whimsical concerns, and his seemingly idealistic total commitment to non-violence. Once his tactics prove effective in mobilizing the Indian masses towards independence, both his allies and enemies start taking him seriously.
  • Comically Missing the Point: 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.
  • 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.
  • Condescending Compassion: Gandhi accuses the British officials of this, arguing that despite their good intentions, they're no better than General Dyer in how they treat the Indian people as pets to be disciplined and controlled.
    Gandhi: We think it is time you recognized that you are masters in someone else's home. Despite the best intentions of the best of you, you must, in the nature of things, humiliate us to control us. General Dyer is but an extreme example of the principle. It is time you left.
  • 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.
  • Cycle of Revenge: A major theme of the film is both this between Indians and the British, and then between Indian Hindus and Indian Muslims. Gandhi spends the film determined to break the cycle with mixed results. Despite being a widely admired luminary even by some of the more militant protesters he never fully reconciles India and Pakistan before his assassination.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Gandhi very nearly crosses it twice. First when his wife Ba passes away, briefly leaving him too heartbroken to function. The second time is when the escalating Hindu-Muslim violence causes him to fear that everything he's done has been for nothing, leading to his hunger strike.
  • 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 to see the Hindu militants hitting the opposition over the head with signs reading "Long Live Gandhi". Some of them are shamed into realizing this when Gandhi begins his fast.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Gandhi's assassin can be seen in the crowd that Nehru runs into to confront the heckler who shouted "Death to Gandhi!"
  • 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.
  • Everyone Has Standards: While most British colonial officials aren't exactly paragons of tolerance, they were horrified by Dyer's brutality toward Indian protestors. This is Truth in Television; even Winston Churchill and H.H. Asquith, staunch defenders of British imperialism, were utterly disgusted by the massacre.
  • Evil Brit: Gandhi has to face a lot of them, including probably the cruelest of them all in India then: Reginald Dyer, who orders the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
  • Evil Colonialist: While colonialism as a whole is denounced as cruel and terrible, the worst example is the cold-blooded Reginald Dyer.
  • 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 has no problems mercilessly gunning down protestors. However, 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 and humilitation used.
  • Gilligan Cut: A non-comedic example. While on a train in South Africa, Gandhi is told that, as a non-white, he must travel in third class. He protests, producing his ticket and business card showing that he's an attorney, and says he always travels by first class. The scene then cuts to him being thrown off at the next station.
  • 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!"
  • Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee: After the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Dyer is called to testify before a committee of enquiry about his actions.
  • High-Class Glass: Mohammad Jinnah, an educated, sophisticated man, wears a high-class glass. He rather dislikes Gandhi who is also an educated, sophisticated man, but lives and dresses like a simple peasant.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Gandhi is portrayed as a saintly man, with few references to his extreme racism against blacks or his sexist behavior.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Jinnah is not a particularly sympathetic character - he oozes snobbish contempt towards Gandhi and to a lesser extent other leading figures of the Indian Congress. However, Jinnah is absolutely correct to point out that the masses of India are not all tolerant, Gandhi-like aspiring saints, therefore, the only alternative to sectarian civil war is to partition India into Hindu India proper and Muslim Pakistan.
    • The British officials are not pleasant people and some display open bigotry. Nonetheless, they claim that British rule is what's keeping Hindu-Muslim violence from erupting in India. Which, naturally, is what happens when India secures its independence. Gandhi had anticipated this and expected India could work out its own problems, but is dismayed when the solutions turns out to be the Partition of India.
  • Machiavelli Was Wrong: The abusive behavior of the colonial authorities towards Indians is what drives them to want to break away from the British Empire. Reginald Dyer believes he can quash the independence movement by shooting Indians into submission. Instead, he creates more enmity between Indians at the colonial government.
  • Make an Example of Them: General Dyer's intent of the massacre was to "inflict a lesson that would have an impact throughout all India." Given how this incident served as the catalyst for the campaign of Indian independence and convinced Gandhi himself that life under British rule was no longer desirable, it ended up being a very different lesson than the one Dyer intended.
  • 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).
  • Money Is Not Power: As Gandhi learns in South Africa, Mr. Khan's background as an Indian outweighs his status as a wealthy businessman, and even this doesn't afford him the right to travel in first class coaches or walk down the street with his white Christian attorney.
  • 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.
  • Not Afraid of Hell: A subversion occurs during Gandhi's hunger strike. A Hindu man throws a loaf of bread at him in an attempt to get him to break his fast. He claims he does not care about being damned for killing a Muslim child in retaliation for his son being killed, but Gandhi counters by offering him a kind of salvation and respite from his grief: raising another Muslim child as his own.
  • Not Bad: Jinnah has nothing but contempt for Gandhi's monastic life and humility, but it's clear that Gandhi still wins Jinnah's grudging respect on several occasions, such as after the speech where Gandhi underscores how pointless talk of India's independence is until the hearts and minds of the common people have been won by addressing their day to day concerns, and when Gandhi's "non-cooperation" campaign and later salt strike win major concessions from British authorities.
  • Oh, Crap!: The gathered crowd inside the Jallianwala Bagh just before General Dyer orders to fire.
    • Also the policemen who realize that they're about to be lynched by a mob in retaliation for badly beating a protester.
  • 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. At one point, Gandhi remarks that he could spend the rest of his life just traveling around India, and still see only a small portion of her.
  • Serious Business: The Salt March. Indians at that time were divided on the basis of language, religion, caste and politics. The Indian National Congress, with its support largely coming from the urban middle class, could not find a common issue to rally people around. Gandhi's answer was salt - everyone needed it, and Britain had recently imposed a tax on its manufacture.
  • Shaming the Mob:
    • Gandhi fasts as he sees his followers act violently, leading them to stop every time.
    • When someone in a mob of Hindu nationalists declares "Death to Gandhi" over his support of Muslim rights, Nehru goes ballistic and castigates the mob by daring them to shoot him.
  • 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.
  • Tranquil Fury: Gandhi, after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. During his meeting with the British colonial officials he never once raises his voice but he's clearly extremely upset as he informs the British that their time ruling India is over. It also marks a sharp departure from his initial support of British rule.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The train conductor and other passenger who kicked Gandhi off the train in South Africa had no idea what they were setting in motion.
  • 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.