5 facts you probably don’t know about Gandhi, the film

When Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi was celebrated at the OSCARS thirty two years ago, many of us weren’t even born. Bhanu Atthaiyya won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design and became the first Indian to do so. Most of us won’t even know her name. However, there are many other things about Gandhi the film which we either don’t know or have ignored in the long run. This being a globally appreciated biopic of our father of nation, we should take pride in it as an Indian. So here are some facts about the film which you didn’t know:

Ben Kingsley’s Indian connection: Sir Ben Kingsley, who played Gandhi with such precision that, residents of the Indian villages where some scenes were shot, thought that he was a ‘ghost’ of Bapu. He eventually won the Academy Award for Best Actor but many of us probably don’t know about his curious connection with India and Bapu. Ben Kingsley was born as Krishna Pandit Bhanji to Anna Lyna Mary (an actress) and Rahimatullah Hari Bhanji (a doctor). Kingsley’s father was born in Kenya and was of Guajarati origin. Thus, connecting Kingsley with not only India but also the state of Gujarat where Gandhi was born. Furthermore, he took his stage name Kingsley from the famous Kingsley Hall where Gandhi stayed in 1931. After he got the part in film, he came to India and lived as much as possible as Gandhi.

Naseeruddin Shah almost got the part: Did you know Naseeruddin Shah had also auditioned for the Gandhi’s role? Not just auditioned, it seemed that Richard Attenborough was somewhat serious about casting him as he sent him a ticket and called him to London for the audition. The rumor even has it that Attenborough had almost cast Naseer for the part. Indian newspapers published stories from Attenborugh’s behalf that Shah ‘is’ playing Gandhi. Naseer also says that there was time when he was very sure of having bagged the role as he thought that nowhere else would Richard Attenborough find an actor who looked like Gandhi. It was only when he saw Ben Kingsley during the screen test that his belief was shattered and he realized he didn’t stand a chance.

The Funeral Scene: Not many of us would know that the scene of Gandhi’s funeral in the film made an entry into the Guiness Book of World Records. It employed 4,00,000 extras, making a record of largest number of extras in one scene of the film. This was a humungous thing to pull off or even imagine to pull off when today most of such crowded scenes are work of CGI. What is more amazing that these extras were gathered not from any agency but from newspaper ads asking for people to ‘volunteer’ as extras in the film in the memory of Gandhi. None of the extras were paid. The scene was shot on 31st January 1981 on Gandhi’s 33rd death anniversary and employed 33 cameras.

Richard Attenorough’s most ambitious project: Almost all the studios which Attenborugh approached had refused to finance the film, but since Gandhi was his dream project he eventually ended up making the film. The idea began in 1962 when Attenborugh got a call from an Indian Civil Servant Motilai Kothari who was then with the Indian High Commission in London and they talked about making a film on the Mahatma. Attenborough, who had already read about Gandhi liked the idea so much that he met the then Prime Minister Jawarhar Lal Nehru and Lord Mountbatten further understand Gandhi and seek their support in making the film. Although Nehru promised his support, he passed away in 1964. It took 18 years for Richard Attenborough to realize his dream and in his acceptance speech at the OSCARS he thanked his friend Motilai Kothari for giving him the idea. The film is also dedicated to Kothari.

A global celebration of our Father of Nation: If you were thinking why I chose to write an article on Gandhi the film and not Gandhi the man on occasion of his birth anniversary, here is the answer. Gandhi, the 1982 film was probably the first time world unanimously celebrated the greatness of the man Mahatma Gandhi. I am not saying that every time the film received an award, tune of ‘Raghupati Raghav Rajaram’ playing at the OSCARS was a reason to be proud of, but the fact that a British filmmaker believed in the idea of making a biopic of Gandhi so much so that he struggled perpetually for 18 years to make the film, is actually inspiring. The fact that the film was an Indo-British joint production and NFDC of India provided one-third of the budget of the film, and that it was presented by Columbia pictures- an American Company, and also that it was one of the highest-grossing films in the US and UK suggest how the world embraced Gandhi, the man by means of the film. Here is a link to the video where in his acceptance speech at the OSCARS, Attenborough says that the award was an honor given to Gandhi himself, he further talks about the greatness of Gandhi:


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