I’m fairly certain people born after 1982 won’t know that Ben Kingsley is, in fact, not the actor’s given name. He is, in fact, the son of a British actress and an Indian medical doctor. Ben Kingsley was born Krishna Pandit Bhanji and at 39 set out to play an iconic role, probably the most iconic of his career thus far: Mohandas K. Gandhi, or as he was known, too, later in life: Mahatma Gandhi.
The film itself is a transformative experience. It’s long: touching just over three hours, the film paints the mercurial Gandhi in an honorific light very fitting to his Sanskrit title given to him and distinguishing him from perhaps thousands of other Gandhis living in India and abroad during the first half of the twentieth century. It’s slow: but not boring. The film details several events that helped to guide young Mohandas K. Gandhi, attorney at law, from path of honor, to a path befitting of the savior of a nation. Because that’s who Gandhi was. He helped to broker Britain’s release of India from a three-centuries-long hold economically, religiously and territorially. Through personal experience, Gandhi did something very few humans have ever been able to: expand his reach across a population to make a difference in the outcome of global events. Kingsley, in his Oscar-winning performance, mastered transforming this emotion to the screen.
It’s hard to place Gandhi into context because there’s never another film like it. Some films, like 1970’s Patton helped to paint the picture of General George Patton within the frame of his notable achievements. Other films, like 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia come close, but the film’s subject, T.E. Lawrence, doesn’t hold the nation’s back on his shoulders. Nineteen eighty four’s Amadeus is amusing, poignant and provocative, but Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, didn’t hold the weight of hundreds of millions of people on his shoulders to achieve his accomplishments. Billions of present-day Indians owe their freedom (some might argue their own self-opression) to Mohandas K. Gandhi, attorney at law. It was a perfect collusion of efforts: Richard Attenborough and Ben Kingsley necessarily left a tribute to the singular man. Continue reading