Yesterday’s (October 2) Times of India had a small write up on Sir
Richard Attenborough reminiscing about the making of the world cinema milestone
‘Gandhi’ on the birth anniversary of the Mahatma. He focused mainly on his selection as the director of the project as
well as the casting of the movie. He says Naseeruddin Shah was the most
recommended name for the role of the Mahatma but his search took him to Sir Ben
And Kingsley proved him right.
I am not a film-buff but I love cinema when it comes to the
shades of the visual language. My collection is made of good stuff from the
world cinema and I enjoy a quality time watching and thinking over the masterpieces.
And I can say ‘Gandhi’ is the movie I have seen the maximum number of times.
It’s unique. In spite of the ensemble cast and thousands of
extras, the movie delivers extraordinarily well. Very few movies with such a
scale of production in the world cinema have done so.
Much has been written on the Mahatma and much is being written.
There have been many movies made and being made on him. His teachings and views
have been translated in many languages. He reaches to the world fraternity of
the day through the words, written and spoken. And for the world audience, the ‘movie’
Gandhi features prominently there, as the gateway to introduce the Mahatma to
them who are still not aware of him but want to know about him. It is true of
many Indians as well.
The film is an example of craftsmanship by a master
storyteller. Its every frame is a study in point. You can study the use of lighting,
of camera angles, of the dress designing, of the sets and locales, of the props
used to support characters in every frame, and a brilliant use of the background
music. But two aspects stand out, the aspects that had the most direct bearing
on making the movie a masterpiece.
One is the use of specific incidents from almost four
decades of Mahatma’s life in India after his return from South Africa. Four
decades is a long period and given the fact that India’s freedom struggle had
become synonymous with the Mahatma, it was really a task like finding the
needles in the haystack of multiple defining moments of the then Indian history.
And Sir Attenborough has done it with such a craftsmanship that we never feel
jumbled up when a frame transitions to the other. Remember, every frame in this
movie had to be a meticulous selection of consistency and relevance of
different time-frames spread, sometimes, over the years.
|Theatrical release poster of the movie from taken from Wikipedia |
The other important aspect is the way the characters relay
the visual language. Everyone is perfect in the role given but Kingsley
mesmerizes. Not even for a moment we realize the actor playing the role of the Mahatma
is a British and not an Indian. Use of silence, sounds and body language enhance
a skillfully written script well.
Gandhi standing up, sitting down and standing up again
before he addresses the first public gathering in India or the way Nehru’s
friends at Champaran convey their acceptance to do what Mahatma asks them to do
– simply amazing.
I would say use of silence and sound of props of the frames
are the amplifiers of performances here. Gandhi travels by the train and the
film travels on the wheels of the sound generated by the train and the
surroundings. Gandhi’s silence speaks through his tears when his life-partner
and soulmate Kasturba Gandhi departs.
Symbolism and leitmotifs, we can find many of them in the
movie. It’s a multiple time must watch for anyone who believes in the Mahatma
and who believes in the transcendentalism of the meaningful cinema.
I watch and enjoy the movie scene by scene, sometimes going
back to a scene more than once. Here is the YouTube link to the one of my favuorite
scenes from the movie where the British Justice, in reverence of the Mahatma’s
stature, bows down to him as he enters the courtroom.