Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

When it comes to historical characters with comedy potential, there are three who appeal universally: Adolf Hitler, Elvis Presley, and Gandhi.

With Hitler they accentuate his evil. With Elvis, it's his singing. With Gandhi they go to the other extreme, by taking his passivity and turning it into the polar opposite - violence. I'm thinking of UHF and Red Dwarf here.

I'm not sure that's necessary. How much comedy potential is there in exaggerating passive resistance into a super power? How funny might it be to see Gandhi defeating villains by ducking so that they hit each other?

Because, make no mistake, this powerfully acted drama is one of those very rare films that falls within both the biopic genre, and the super hero one.

"They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me, then they will have my dead body. NOT MY OBEDIENCE!"

Gandhi's own hero's journey begins, as so many biopics do, at the end. Grrr! Why do so many docudramas start anywhere but at the start? Chariots Of Fire, Not Only But Always, Man On The Moon... even The Dish opens with Sam Neill's character reminiscing about the events that we are shortly to witness unfold.

In Gandhi's case the film opens with his tragic assassination. While this does grant the entire narrative a tone of doom-laden inevitability, it also robs it of much immediate threat. From the outset, we know that Gandhi can't die until he's an old man, so standing up to corrupt cops fails to convey much sense of risk to his life.

Of course, it could be argued that we know he's not going to die because the film is named after him, but that reasoning only really holds good for the first 90 minutes. After that, the end credits could roll at any moment, so we just don't know how long he has left.

As it turns out, the full film runs for a very quick three hours plus, which for me was one of the stunning successes of this biography. I found it took a bit of getting into, not least thanks to the somewhat cartoon portrayal of good and evil, but once the spindly Indian had had his first major showdown with the man, I was hooked like a fish.

Perhaps I shouldn't have criticised that opening flaw in the storytelling. In the on-screen text at the very beginning, the film announces its intention to capture something of "the heart of the man", and that certainly comes through loud and clear. I obviously have no idea what Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was like in real life, but the character in this movie is an inspiring role-model, and makes agape love look very easy, even when it involves getting bludgeoned with a club.

"The function of a civil resistance is to provoke response and we will continue to provoke until they respond or change the law. They are not in control; we are."

"In the end, you will walk out. Because 100,000 Englishmen simply cannot control 350 million Indians, if those Indians refuse to cooperate."

Reporter: "Whatever moral ascendancy the West once held was lost here today. India is free, for she has taken all that steel and cruelty can give and she has neither cringed nor retreated."

The appearance of so many famous actors sadly robs the film of believability (hey look - it's Cliff Claven!) while the funeral scene has so many extras that I mistook it for actual news footage. I'm a little bit offended at that - it is possible to spend too much money on making a film.

Overall though I found this to be a compelling piece of drama, with a timeless message about the freedom the human spirit that I for one need regular reminding of.

Ignore the power!

(available here)


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