Gandhi (film)


Theatrical release poster
Directed by Richard Attenborough
Produced by Richard Attenborough
Written by John Briley
Music by
Edited by John Bloom
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • 30 November 1982 (1982-11-30) (New Delhi)
  • 3 December 1982 (1982-12-03) (United Kingdom)
  • 8 December 1982 (1982-12-08) (United States)
Running time
191 minutes[1]
Language English
Budget $22 million[3]
Box office $127.8 million[3]

Gandhi is a 1982 epic biographical film which dramatises the life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the leader of India's non-violent, non-cooperative independence movement against the United Kingdom's rule of the country during the 20th century. Gandhi was written by John Briley and produced and directed by Richard Attenborough. It stars Ben Kingsley in the title role. The film covers Gandhi's life from a defining moment in 1893, as he is thrown off a South African train for being in a whites-only compartment, and concludes with his assassination and funeral in 1948. Although a practising Hindu, Gandhi's embracing of other faiths, particularly Christianity and Islam, is also depicted.

Gandhi was released in India on 30 November 1982, in the United Kingdom on 3 December, and in the United States on 6 December. It was nominated for Academy Awards in eleven categories, winning eight, including Best Picture. Richard Attenborough won for Best Director, and Ben Kingsley won for Best Actor. The film was screened retrospective on 12 August 2016 as the Opening Film at the Independence Day Film Festival jointly presented by the Indian Directorate of Film Festivals and Ministry of Defense, commemorating 70th Indian Independence Day.[4][5]


The screenplay of Gandhi is available as a published book.[6][7] The film opens with a statement from the filmmakers explaining their approach to the problem of filming Gandhi's complex life story:

No man's life can be encompassed in one telling. There is no way to give each year its allotted weight, to include each event, each person who helped to shape a lifetime. What can be done is to be faithful in spirit to the record and to try to find one's way to the heart of the man...[8]

The film begins on the day of Gandhi's assassination on 30 January 1948.[7]:18–21 After an evening prayer, an elderly Gandhi is helped out for his evening walk to meet a large number of greeters and admirers. One of these visitors, Nathuram Godse, shoots him point blank in the chest. Gandhi exclaims, "Oh, God!" ("Hē Ram!" historically), and then falls dead. The film then cuts to a huge procession at his funeral, which is attended by dignitaries from around the world.

The early life of Gandhi is not depicted in the film. Instead, the story flashes back 55 years to a life-changing event: in 1893, the 23-year-old Gandhi is thrown off a South African train for being an Indian sitting in a first-class compartment despite having a first-class ticket.[9] Realising the laws are biased against Indians, he then decides to start a nonviolent protest campaign for the rights of all Indians in South Africa. After numerous arrests and unwelcome international attention, the government finally relents by recognising some rights for Indians.[10]

After this victory, Gandhi is invited back to India, where he is now considered something of a national hero. He is urged to take up the fight for India's independence, (Swaraj, Quit India) from the British Empire. Gandhi agrees, and mounts a nonviolent non-cooperation campaign of unprecedented scale, coordinating millions of Indians nationwide. There are some setbacks, such as violence against the protesters and Gandhi's occasional imprisonment. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre is also depicted in the film.

Nevertheless, the campaign generates great attention, and Britain faces intense public pressure. After World War II,[11] Britain finally grants Indian independence.[12] Indians celebrate this victory, but their troubles are far from over. The country is subsequently divided by religion. It is decided that the northwest area and the eastern part of India (current-day Bangladesh), both places where Muslims are in the majority, will become a new country called Pakistan. It is hoped that by encouraging the Muslims to live in a separate country, violence will abate. Gandhi is opposed to the idea, and is even willing to allow Muhammad Ali Jinnah to become the first prime minister of India,[13] but the Partition of India is carried out nevertheless. Religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims erupt into nationwide violence. Horrified, Gandhi declares a hunger strike, saying he will not eat until the fighting stops.[14] The fighting does stop eventually.

Gandhi spends his last days trying to bring about peace between both nations. He thereby angers many dissidents on both sides, one of whom (Godse) is involved in a conspiracy to assassinate him.[15]

As Godse shoots Gandhi in a scene recalling the opening, the film cuts to black and Gandhi is heard in a voiceover, saying "Oh, God!" The audience then sees Gandhi's cremation; the film ending with a scene of Gandhi's ashes being scattered on the holy Ganga.[16] As this happens, viewers hear Gandhi in another voiceover from earlier in the film:[17]

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it. Always.

As the list of actors is seen at the end, the hymns "Vaishnava Jana To" and "Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram" are heard.



This film had been Richard Attenborough's dream project, although two previous attempts at filming had failed. In 1952, Gabriel Pascal secured an agreement with the Prime Minister of India (Pandit Nehru) to produce a film of Gandhi's life. However, Pascal died in 1954 before preparations were completed.[18]

In 1962 Attenborough was contacted by Motilal Kothari, an Indian-born civil servant working with the Indian High Commission in London and a devout follower of Gandhi. Kothari insisted that Attenborough meet him to discuss a film about Gandhi.[19][20] Attenborough agreed, after reading Louis Fischer's biography of Gandhi and spent the next 18 years attempting to get the film made. He was able to meet prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi through a connection with Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India. Nehru approved of the film and promised to help support its production, but his death in 1964 was one of the film's many setbacks. Attenborough would dedicate the film to the memory of Kothari, Mountbatten, and Nehru.

David Lean and Sam Spiegel had planned to make a film about Gandhi after completing The Bridge on the River Kwai, reportedly with Alec Guinness as Gandhi. Ultimately, the project was abandoned in favour of Lawrence of Arabia (1962).[21] Attenborough reluctantly approached Lean with his own Gandhi project in the late 1960s, and Lean agreed to direct the film and offered Attenborough the lead role. Instead Lean began filming Ryan's Daughter, during which time Motilai Kothari had died and the project fell apart.[22]

Attenborough again attempted to resurrect the project in 1976 with backing from Warner Brothers. Then prime minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency in India and shooting would be impossible. Finally in 1980 Attenborough was able to secure both the funding and locations needed to make the film. Screenwriter John Briley had introduced him to Jake Eberts, the chief executive at the new Goldcrest production company that raised approximately two-thirds of the film's budget. Co-producer Rani Dube persuaded prime minister Indira Gandhi to provide the remaining $10 million from the National Film Development Corporation of India, chaired by D. V. S. Raju at that time.[23][24]

Shooting began on 26 November 1980 and ended on 10 May 1981. Over 300,000 extras were used in the funeral scene, the most for any film according to Guinness World Records.[25]


During pre-production, there was much speculation as to who would play the role of Gandhi.[26][27] The choice was Ben Kingsley, who is partly of Indian heritage (his father was Gujarati and his birth name is Krishna Bhanji).[28]

Release and reception

Gandhi premiered in New Delhi, India on 30 November 1982. Two days later, on 2 December, it had a Royal Premiere at the Odeon Leicester Square in London[29] in the presence of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.[30][31] The film had a limited release in the US on 8 December 1982, followed by a wider release in January 1983.[3]

Box office performance

Gandhi grossed a total of $52.7 million in North America[3] and became the 12th-highest-grossing film of 1982 there.[32] Audiences around the world loved the film and went on to see it several times helping the film to generate more income. In India in particular, it was one of the highest-grossing film of all-time (and the highest for a foreign film) during the time of its release by earning over ₹100 crore or 1 billion rupees. At today's exchange rate, that amount to $14.9 million, still making it one of the highest-grossing Hollywood/imported film in the country. It was shown tax free in Mumbai and Delhi.[33]

Critical response

Reviews were broadly positive not only domestically (in India) but also internationally.[33] The film was discussed or reviewed in Newsweek,[26] Time,[34] the Washington Post,[35][36] The Public Historian,[37] Cross Currents,[38] The Journal of Asian Studies,[39] Film Quarterly,[40] The Progressive,[41] The Christian Century[41] and elsewhere.[42] Ben Kingsley's performance was especially praised. Among the few who took a more negative view of the film, historian Lawrence James called it "pure hagiography"[43] while anthropologist Akhil Gupta said it "suffers from tepid direction and a superficial and misleading interpretation of history."[44] The film was also criticised by some right-wing commentators who objected to the film's advocacy of nonviolence, including Pat Buchanan, Emmett Tyrrell, and especially Richard Grenier.[41][45]

In Time, Richard Schickel wrote that in portraying Gandhi's "spiritual presence... Kingsley is nothing short of astonishing."[34]:97 A "singular virtue" of the film is that "its title figure is also a character in the usual dramatic sense of the term." Schickel viewed Attenborough's directorial style as having "a conventional handsomeness that is more predictable than enlivening," but this "stylistic self-denial serves to keep one's attention fastened where it belongs: on a persuasive, if perhaps debatable vision of Gandhi's spirit, and on the remarkable actor who has caught its light in all its seasons."[34]:97 Roger Ebert gave the film four-stars and called it a "remarkable experience",[46] and placed it 5th on his 10 best films of 1983.[47]

In Newsweek, Jack Kroll stated that "There are very few movies that absolutely must be seen. Sir Richard Attenborough's Gandhi is one of them."[26] The movie "deals with a subject of great importance... with a mixture of high intelligence and immediate emotional impact... [and] Ben Kingsley... gives what is possibly the most astonishing biographical performance in screen history." Kroll stated that the screenplay's "least persuasive characters are Gandhi's Western allies and acolytes" such as an English cleric and an American journalist, but that "Attenborough's 'old-fashioned' style is exactly right for the no-tricks, no-phony-psychologizing quality he wants."[26] Furthermore, Attenborough

mounts a powerful challenge to his audience by presenting Gandhi as the most profound and effective of revolutionaries, creating out of a fierce personal discipline a chain reaction that led to tremendous historical consequences. At a time of deep political unrest, economic dislocation and nuclear anxiety, seeing "Gandhi" is an experience that will change many minds and hearts.[26]

According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications there was "a cycle of film and television productions which emerged during the first half of the 1980s, which seemed to indicate Britain's growing preoccupation with India, Empire and a particular aspect of British cultural history".[48] In addition to Gandhi, this cycle also included Heat and Dust (1983), Octopussy (1983), The Jewel in the Crown (1984), The Far Pavilions (1984) and A Passage to India (1984).

The film holds an 88% rating on website Rotten Tomatoes.[49] Its critics' consensus reads: "Director Richard Attenborough is typically sympathetic and sure-handed, but it's Ben Kingsley's magnetic performance that acts as the linchpin for this sprawling, lengthy biopic." CinemaScore reported that audiences gave the film a rare "A+" grade.[50]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Recipients and nominees Result
55th Academy Awards[51] Academy Award for Best Picture Richard Attenborough Won
Academy Award for Best Director Richard Attenborough Won
Academy Award for Best Actor Ben Kingsley Won
Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) John Briley Won
Academy Award for Best Original Score Ravi Shankar, George Fenton Nominated
Academy Award for Best Sound Gerry Humphreys, Robin O'Donoghue, Jonathan Bates, Simon Kaye Nominated
Academy Award for Best Art Direction Stuart Craig, Robert W. Laing, Michael Seirton Won
Academy Award for Best Cinematography Billy Williams, Ronnie Taylor Won
Academy Award for Best Makeup Tom Smith Nominated
Academy Award for Best Costume Design John Mollo, Bhanu Athaiya Won
Academy Award for Best Film Editing John Bloom Won
American Cinema Editors American Cinema Editors Award for Best Edited Feature Film – Dramatic John Bloom Won
36th British Academy Film Awards BAFTA Award for Best Film Richard Attenborough Won
BAFTA Award for Best Direction
BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role Ben Kingsley Won
BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay John Briley Nominated
BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role Edward Fox Nominated
Roshan Seth Nominated
BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role Candice Bergen Nominated
Rohini Hattangadi Won
BAFTA Award for Best Newcomer Ben Kingsley Won
BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography Billy Williams, Ronnie Taylor Nominated
BAFTA Award for Best Costume Design John Mollo, Bhanu Athaiya Nominated
BAFTA Award for Best Editing John Bloom Nominated
BAFTA Award for Best Makeup Tom Smith Nominated
BAFTA Award for Best Production Design Stuart Craig Nominated
BAFTA Award for Best Film Music Ravi Shankar, George Fenton Nominated
BAFTA Award for Best Sound Gerry Humphreys, Robin O'Donoghue, Jonathan Bates, Simon Kaye Nominated
British Society of Cinematographers Billy Williams, Ronnie Taylor Won
David di Donatello Awards David di Donatello for Best Foreign Film Richard Attenborough Won
David di Donatello for Best Foreign Producer
David di Donatello European David
Directors Guild of America Award Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film Richard Attenborough Won
Evening Standard British Film Awards Best Actor Ben Kingsley Won
40th Golden Globe Awards Golden Globe Award for Best Director Richard Attenborough Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Ben Kingsley Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film Richard Attenborough Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay John Briley Won
Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor Ben Kingsley Won
26th Grammy Awards Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media Ravi Shankar, George Fenton Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards 1982 Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor Ben Kingsley Won
London Film Critics' Circle London Film Critics Circle Award for Actor of the Year Ben Kingsley Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards 1982 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Film Richard Attenborough 2nd place
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Director
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor Ben Kingsley Won
National Board of Review Awards 1982 National Board of Review Award for Best Film Richard Attenborough Won
National Board of Review: Top Ten Films Won
National Board of Review Award for Best Actor Ben Kingsley Won
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor Ben Kingsley 2nd place
1982 New York Film Critics Circle Awards New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Film Richard Attenborough Won
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor Ben Kingsley Won

See also


  1. "Gandhi". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 "Gandhi (1982)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "Gandhi (1982) - Box Office Data, DVD and Blu-ray Sales, Movie News, Cast and Crew Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  6. Briley, John (1982). Gandhi: The Screenplay. London: Duckworth. ISBN 0-7156-1708-7.
  7. 1 2 Briley, John (1983). Gandhi: The Screenplay. New York: Grove Press. ISBN 0-394-62471-8.
  8. Briley (1983), p. 15. Only discrepancy: Movie DVD (2007, ch. 1, time 0:01:09) lacks a comma after "record" that is present in Briley (1983).
  9. pp. 21–24, Briley (1983).
  10. Briley (1983), p. 54, represents Gandhi's final victory in South Africa by depicting General Smuts as telling Gandhi, "a Royal Commission to 'investigate' the new legislation.... I think I could guarantee they would recommend the Act be repealed.... You yourself are free from this moment.".
  11. World War II is alluded to in three scenes in the movie. Briley (1983) first presents Gandhi, soon after his return from London in the early 1930, as saying "They are preparing for war. I will not support it, but I do not intend to take advantage of their danger" (p. 146). Second, after war is underway (as indicated by a newspaper headline), Gandhi is prevented by the British from speaking when he says he will "speak against war" (p. 147); Kasturba then tells the British: "If you take my husband, I intend to speak in his place" (p. 147), although she too is prevented from speaking. Third, Margaret Bourke-White and Gandhi discuss whether nonviolence could be effective against Hitler (Gandhi says: "What you cannot do is accept injustice. From Hitler – or anyone...", p. 151).
  12. The British commitment to support Indian independence is indicated in the first scene set after WWII, in which Mountbatten arrives at Delhi Airport and then, in press conference, announces: "We have come to crown victory with friendship – to assist at the birth of an independent India and to welcome her as an equal member in the British Commonwealth of Nations... I am here to see that I am the last British Viceroy" (Briley, 1983, p. 155).
  13. Briley (1983), Gandhi to Jinnah: "I am asking Panditji to stand down. I want you to be the first Prime Minister of India" (p. 158).
  14. In Briley (1983), Gandhi mentions he is on a "fast" (p. 168), and later says that he wants "That the fighting will stop – that you make me believe it will never start again" (p. 172).
  15. Briley (1983), p. 179.
  16. Briley (1983), p. 180; in the movie/screenplay, the river is not identified.
  17. Here, the movie voiceover (DVD, ISBN 1-4248-4094-5) departs from Briley's (1983) published screenplay, which reads: "There have been tyrants and murderers – and for a time they can seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of it – always... When you are in doubt that that is God's way, the way the world is meant to be... think of that." (p. 180, elipses in original)
  18. See Pascal, Valerie (1970). The disciple and his devil: Gabriel Pascal, Bernard Shaw. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-595-33772-9. Page 219 states that "Nehru had given his consent, which he confirmed later in a letter to Gabriel: 'I feel... that you are the man who can produce something worthwhile. I was greatly interested in what you told me about this subject [the Gandhi film] and your whole approach to it."
  19. "How a Film Became Something More".
  20. Wakeman, John. World Film Directors, Volume 2. The H. W. Wilson Company, 1988, p. 79.
  21. Entirely Up To You, Darling by Diana Hawkins & Richard Attenborough; paperback; Arrow Books; published 2009. ISBN 978-0-099-50304-0
  22. Wakeman (1988), p. 81.
  23. Wakeman (1988), p. 82.
  24. Special Correspondent. "Film producer D.V.S. Raju passes away". The Hindu.
  25. "Arts and media/Movies/Film extras". Guinness World Records. Archived from the original on 26 November 2005. Retrieved 2007-10-27.
  26. 1 2 3 4 5 Jack Kroll (1982). "A magnificent life of Gandhi". Newsweek (13 December 1982): 60.
  27. Kroll (1982, p. 60) mentions advocacy of Alec Guinness, John Hurt, and Dustin Hoffman, and quotes Attenborough as stating that "At one point Paramount actually said they'd give me the money if Richard Burton could play Gandhi."
  28. See Jack Kroll (1982). "To be or not to be... Gandhi". Newsweek [US edition] (13 December 1982): 63. – "Born Krishna Bhanji, Kingsley changed his name when he became an actor: the Kingsley comes from his paternal grandfather, who became a successful spice trader in East Africa and was known as King Clove."
  29. Nigel Wolland. "70mm at the Odeon, Leicester Square". In Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  30. "Entertainments Guide". The Guardian. 2 December 1982. p. 24.
  31. "Attending premiere of "Gandhi" December 2nd 1982". Princess Diana Remembered. 2 December 1982. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  32. "1982 Domestic Grosses". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  33. 1 2 Makarand R Paranjape. "The Death and Afterlife of Mahatma Gandhi". Retrieved July 14, 2016.
  34. 1 2 3 Richard Schickel (6 December 1982). "Cinema: Triumph of a martyr [review of Gandhi, film by Richard Attenborough]". Time. 120: 97.
  35. Christian Williams (6 December 1982). "Passage to 'Gandhi'; Attenborough's struggle to bring the Mahatma's life to the screen". Washington Post. pp. Show, F1.
  36. Coleman McCarthy (2 January 1983). "'Gandhi': Introduction to a moral teacher". Washington Post. pp. Style; K2.
  37. Stephen Hay (1983). "Review: Attenborough's "Gandhi"". The Public Historian. University of California Press on behalf of the National Council on Public History. 5 (3): 85–94. doi:10.2307/3377031. ISSN 0272-3433. JSTOR 3377031.
  38. Eknath Easwaran (1982). "Gandhi – Reflections After the Film". Cross Currents. Convergence. 32 (4): 385–388. ISSN 0011-1953.
  39. Mark Juergensmeyer (1984). "Review: The Gandhi revival—a review article". The Journal of Asian Studies. Association for Asian Studies. 43 (2): 293–298. doi:10.2307/2055315. ISSN 0021-9118. JSTOR 2055315.
  40. Darius Cooper (1983). "Untitled [review of Gandhi by Richard Attenborough]". Film Quarterly. University of California Press. 37 (2): 46–50. doi:10.2307/3697391. ISSN 0015-1386. JSTOR 3697391.
  41. 1 2 3 DeParle, Jason (September 1983). "Why Gandhi Drives The Neoconservatives Crazy". The Washington Monthly: 46–50.
  42. Roger Ebert (1 January 1983). "Gandhi [review of film by Richard Attenborough]". Chicago Sun-Times. pp. online film review. Retrieved 6 March 2011.
  43. James, Lawrence (1997). Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India. Little, Brown, and Company. p. 465. ISBN 0-312-19322-X.
  44. Akhil Gupta (1983). "Review: Attenborough's truth: The politics of Gandhi" (PDF). The Threepenny Review. Threepenny Review (15): 22–23. ISSN 0275-1410. JSTOR 4383242.
  45. Grenier, Richard (1983). The Gandhi Nobody Knows. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers. ISBN 0-8407-5871-5.
  46. Ebert, Roger (1 January 1982). "Gandhi (1982)". The Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved December 10, 2015.
  47. Ebert's 10 Best Lists: 1967 to Present. Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times via the Internet Archive. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  48. JEWEL IN THE CROWN, Museum of Broadcast Communication
  49. . Rotten Tomatoes: Gandhi(1982). Retrieved 30 August 2016.
  50. Pamela McClintock (August 19, 2011). "Why CinemaScore Matters for Box Office". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 14, 2016.
  51. "The 55th Academy Awards (1983) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-09.
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