Gandhi (film)

Gandhi is a 1982 epic historical drama film based on 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. The film, a British-Indian co-production, was written by John Briley and produced and directed by Richard Attenborough. It stars Ben Kingsley in the title role.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Attenborough
Produced byRichard Attenborough
Written byJohn Briley
Music by
Edited byJohn Bloom
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • 30 November 1982 (1982-11-30) (New Delhi)
  • 3 December 1982 (1982-12-03) (United Kingdom)
  • 10 December 1982 (1982-12-10) (United States)
Running time
191 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom
  • India
Budget$22 million[2]
Box office$127.8 million[2]

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 10 December.[3] It was nominated for Academy Awards in eleven categories, winning eight, including Best Picture and Best Director for Attenborough, Best Actor for Ben Kingsley, and Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen for Briley. The film was screened retrospectively 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 Defence, commemorating the 70th Indian Independence Day.[4][5] The screenplay of Gandhi is available as a published book.[6][7]


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 visitor, Nathuram Godse, shoots him point blank in the chest. Gandhi exclaims, "Oh, God!", and then falls dead.

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.[8] 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.[9]

In 1915, as a result of his victory in South Africa, 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 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre is also depicted in the film.

Nevertheless, the campaign generates great attention, and Britain faces intense public pressure. In 1930, Gandhi protests against the British-imposed salt tax via the highly symbolic Salt March. He also travels to London for a conference concerning Britain's possible departure from India; this, however, proves fruitless. After the Second World War,[10] Britain finally grants Indian independence.[11] 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,[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] Gandhi is cremated and his ashes are scattered on the holy Ganga.[15] As this happens, viewers hear Gandhi in another voiceover from earlier in the film.



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 (Jawaharlal Nehru) to produce a film of Gandhi's life. However, Pascal died in 1954 before preparations were completed.[16]

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.[17][18] 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 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).[19] 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.[20]

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. Co-producer Rani Dube persuaded prime minister Indira Gandhi to provide the first $10 million from the National Film Development Corporation of India, chaired by D. V. S. Raju at that time, on the back of which the remainder of the funding was finally raised.[21][22] Finally in 1980 Attenborough was able to secure the remainder of the funding 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.

Shooting began on 26 November 1980 and ended on 10 May 1981. Some scenes were shot near Koilwar Bridge, in Bihar.[23] Over 300,000 extras were used in the funeral scene, the most for any film, according to Guinness World Records.[24]


During pre-production, there was much speculation as to who would play the role of Gandhi.[25][26] The choice was Ben Kingsley, who is partly of Indian heritage (his father was Gujarati and his birth name is Krishna Bhanji).[27]

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[28] in the presence of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.[29][30] The film had a limited release in the US on 8 December 1982, followed by a wider release in January 1983.[2]

Box office

In North America, Gandhi grossed a total of US$52,767,889.[2] It became the 12th highest-grossing film of 1982 there.[31]

Outside of North America, the film grossed US$75 million in the rest of the world. It was the year's third highest-grossing film outside of North America.[2]

In the United Kingdom, the film grossed £22.3 million.[32][33] It was the year's highest-grossing film in the United Kingdom, and is one of the top ten highest-grossing British independent films of all time.[32]

In India, it was one of the highest-grossing films 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 amounts to US$14.9 million, still making it one of the highest-grossing imported films in the country. It was shown tax free in Bombay (known as Mumbai since 1995) and Delhi.[34]

Goldcrest Films invested £5,076,000 in the film and received £11,461,000 in return, earning them a profit of £6,385,000.[35]

Critical response

Reviews were broadly positive not only domestically (in India) but also internationally.[34] The film was discussed or reviewed in Newsweek,[25] Time,[36] the Washington Post,[37][38] The Public Historian,[39] Cross Currents,[40] The Journal of Asian Studies,[41] Film Quarterly,[42] The Progressive,[43] The Christian Century[43] and elsewhere.[44] 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"[45] while anthropologist Akhil Gupta said it "suffers from tepid direction and a superficial and misleading interpretation of history."[46] 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.[43][47]

In Time, Richard Schickel wrote that in portraying Gandhi's "spiritual presence... Kingsley is nothing short of astonishing."[36]: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."[36]:97 Roger Ebert gave the film four-stars and called it a "remarkable experience",[48] and placed it 5th on his 10 best films of 1983.[49]

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."[25] 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."[25] 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.[25]

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".[50] 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).

Patrick French negatively reviewed the film, writing in The Telegraph:

An important origin of one myth about Gandhi was Richard Attenborough’s 1982 film. Take the episode when the newly arrived Gandhi is ejected from a first-class railway carriage at Pietermaritzburg after a white passenger objects to sharing space with a “coolie” (an Indian indentured labourer). In fact, Gandhi's demand to be allowed to travel first-class was accepted by the railway company. Rather than marking the start of a campaign against racial oppression, as legend has it, this episode was the start of a campaign to extend racial segregation in South Africa. Gandhi was adamant that “respectable Indians” should not be obliged to use the same facilities as “raw Kaffirs”. He petitioned the authorities in the port city of Durban, where he practised law, to end the indignity of making Indians use the same entrance to the post office as blacks, and counted it a victory when three doors were introduced: one for Europeans, one for Asiatics and one for Natives.[51]

Richard Grenier in his 1983 article, The Gandhi Nobody Knows, which was also the title of the book of the same name and topic, also criticised the film, arguing it misportrayed him as a "saint". He also alleged the Indian government admitted to financing about a third of the film's budget.[52] Grenier's book later became an inspiration for G. B. Singh's book Gandhi: Behind the Mask of Divinity. Parts of the book also discuss the film negatively. Singh, a long term critic of Gandhi, also went on to co-author Gandhi Under Cross Examination with Timothy Watson.

In the DVD edition of the 1998 film Jinnah, the director's commentary of the film makes mention of the 1982 film. In the commentary, both Sir Christopher Lee, who portrayed the older Muhammed Ali Jinnah, and director Jamil Dehlavi criticised the film Gandhi for its portrayal of Jinnah, arguing it to be demonising and historically inaccurate.

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively collected 57 reviews and judged 84% of them to be positive, with an average rating of 8.15/10. The website's critical 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."[53] Metacritic gave the film a score of 79 out of 100 based on 16 critical reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[54] CinemaScore reported that audiences gave the film a rare "A+" grade.[55] In 2010, the Independent Film & Television Alliance selected the film as one of the 30 Most Significant Independent Films of the last 30 years.[56]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Recipients and nominees Result
55th Academy Awards[57] Best Picture Richard Attenborough Won
Best Director Won
Best Actor Ben Kingsley Won
Best Original Screenplay John Briley Won
Best Original Score Ravi Shankar and George Fenton Nominated
Best Sound Mixing Gerry Humphreys, Robin O'Donoghue,
Jonathan Bates and Simon Kaye
Best Art Direction Art Direction: Stuart Craig and Robert W. Laing;
Set Decoration: Michael Seirton
Best Cinematography Billy Williams and Ronnie Taylor Won
Best Makeup Tom Smith Nominated
Best Costume Design John Mollo and Bhanu Athaiya Won
Best Editing John Bloom Won
American Cinema Editors Best Edited Feature Film – Dramatic Won
36th British Academy Film Awards Best Film Richard Attenborough Won
Best Direction
Best Actor Ben Kingsley Won
Best Original Screenplay John Briley Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Edward Fox Nominated
Roshan Seth Nominated
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Candice Bergen Nominated
Rohini Hattangadi Won
Best Newcomer Ben Kingsley Won
Best Cinematography Billy Williams, Ronnie Taylor Nominated
Best Costume Design John Mollo, Bhanu Athaiya Nominated
Best Editing John Bloom Nominated
Best Makeup Tom Smith Nominated
Best Production Design Stuart Craig Nominated
Best Film Music Ravi Shankar, George Fenton Nominated
Best Sound Gerry Humphreys, Robin O'Donoghue,
Jonathan Bates, Simon Kaye
British Society of Cinematographers Billy Williams, Ronnie Taylor Won
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Film Richard Attenborough Won
Best Foreign Producer
David di Donatello European David
Directors Guild of America Award Outstanding Directing – Feature Film Richard Attenborough Won
Evening Standard British Film Awards Best Actor Ben Kingsley Won
40th Golden Globe Awards Best Foreign Film Richard Attenborough Won
Best Director Won
Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Ben Kingsley Won
Best Screenplay John Briley Won
New Star of the Year – Actor Ben Kingsley Won
26th Grammy Awards Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media Ravi Shankar, George Fenton Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards 1982 Best Actor Ben Kingsley Won
London Film Critics' Circle Actor of the Year Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards 1982 Best Film Richard Attenborough 2nd place
Best Director
Best Actor Ben Kingsley Won
National Board of Review Awards 1982 Best Film Richard Attenborough Won
Top 10 Films Won
Best Actor Ben Kingsley Won
1982 National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Actor 2nd place
1982 New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Richard Attenborough Won
Best Actor Ben Kingsley Won

See also


  1. "Gandhi". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  2. "Gandhi (1982) - Box Office Data, DVD and Blu-ray Sales, Movie News, Cast and Crew Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  3. "Gandhi". Box Office Mojo. 10 December 1982. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  5. "Independence Day Film Festival" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 September 2016. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  6. Briley, John (1982). Gandhi: The Screenplay. London: Duckworth. ISBN 0-7156-1708-7.
  7. Briley, John (1983). Gandhi: The Screenplay. New York: Grove Press. ISBN 0-394-62471-8.
  8. pp. 21–24, Briley (1983).
  9. 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.".
  10. Second World War is alluded to in three scenes in the film. 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).
  11. 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).
  12. 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).
  13. 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).
  14. Briley (1983), p. 179.
  15. Briley (1983), p. 180; in the movie/screenplay, the river is not identified.
  16. 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."
  17. "Gandhi's Inspiring Short Stories". Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  18. Wakeman, John. World Film Directors, Volume 2. The H. W. Wilson Company, 1988, p. 79.
  19. Entirely Up To You, Darling by Diana Hawkins & Richard Attenborough; paperback; Arrow Books; published 2009. ISBN 978-0-099-50304-0
  20. Wakeman (1988), p. 81.
  21. Wakeman (1988), p. 82.
  22. Special Correspondent. "Film producer D.V.S. Raju passes away". The Hindu.
  23. "The ancient heritage behind our railway bridges".
  24. "Arts and media/Movies/Film extras". Guinness World Records. Archived from the original on 26 November 2005. Retrieved 27 October 2007.
  25. Jack Kroll (1982). "A magnificent life of Gandhi". Newsweek (13 December 1982): 60.
  26. 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."
  27. 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."
  28. Nigel Wolland. "70mm at the Odeon, Leicester Square". In Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  29. "Entertainments Guide". The Guardian. 2 December 1982. p. 24.
  30. "Attending premiere of "Gandhi" December 2nd 1982". Princess Diana Remembered. 2 December 1982. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  31. "1982 Domestic Grosses". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  32. "BFI Research and Statistics" (PDF). British Film Institute. April 2016.
  33. "Pacific Exchange Rate Service (0.57245 GBP per USD)" (PDF). UBC Sauder School of Business. University of British Columbia. 1982. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  34. Makarand R Paranjape (30 January 2015). The Death and Afterlife of Mahatma Gandhi. ISBN 9788184006834. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  35. Eberts, Jake; Illott, Terry (1990). My indecision is final. Faber and Faber. p. 656.
  36. Richard Schickel (6 December 1982). "Cinema: Triumph of a martyr [review of Gandhi, film by Richard Attenborough]". Time. 120: 97.
  37. 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.
  38. Coleman McCarthy (2 January 1983). "'Gandhi': Introduction to a moral teacher". Washington Post. pp. Style, K2.
  39. 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.
  40. Eknath Easwaran (1982). "Gandhi – Reflections After the Film". Cross Currents. Convergence. 32 (4): 385–388. ISSN 0011-1953.
  41. 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.
  42. 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.
  43. DeParle, Jason (September 1983). "Why Gandhi Drives The Neoconservatives Crazy". The Washington Monthly: 46–50.
  44. Roger Ebert (1 January 1983). "Gandhi [review of film by Richard Attenborough]". Chicago Sun-Times. pp. online film review. Retrieved 6 March 2011.
  45. James, Lawrence (1997). Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India. Little, Brown, and Company. p. 465. ISBN 0-312-19322-X.
  46. 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. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2016.
  47. Grenier, Richard (1983). The Gandhi Nobody Knows. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers. ISBN 0-8407-5871-5.
  48. Ebert, Roger (1 January 1982). "Gandhi (1982)". The Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  49. Ebert's 10 Best Lists: 1967 to Present. Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times via the Internet Archive. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  50. JEWEL IN THE CROWN, Museum of Broadcast Communication
  51. "Gandhi, film review: 'amazing epic'". Martin Chilton. The Telegraph.
  52. "The Gandhi Nobody Knows". Richard Grenier. Commentary magazine. Archived from the original on 26 February 2009.
  53. "Gandhi (1985)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  54. "Gandhi Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  55. Pamela McClintock (19 August 2011). "Why CinemaScore Matters for Box Office". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 14 September 2016.
  56. "UPDATE: How "Toxic" Is IFTA's Best Indies?". Deadline. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  57. "The 55th Academy Awards (1983) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 9 October 2011.
Further reading
  • Attenborough, Richard. In Search of Gandhi (1982), memoir on making the film
  • Hay, Stephen. "Attenborough's 'Gandhi,'" The Public Historian, 5#3 (1983), pp. 84–94 in JSTOR; evaluates the film's historical accuracy and finds it mixed in the first half of the film and good in the second half
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