Compare the beginning of ‘Ghandi’ with that of Robin Hood, ‘Prince of Thieves’

Ghandi and Robin Hood, are two very dissimilar films targeting different audiences, diverse plots and opposite central characters; one being the stereotypical heroic, action-packed American family movie; the other an epic account of one man and his country’s struggle for independence in colonial India during the 18-1900’s. The films beginnings and general meaning will be explored as well as taking note of the director’s use of lighting, atmospheric devices, camera positioning and the different paces.

The film Ghandi begins with a long camera shot of the sun rising behind the backdrop of fishing boats in shadow, while the tweet of rising birds’ sound in the background. This beginning depicts the whole theme of the film; it is symbolic of the dawn of a new era, on the eve of independence.

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The beginning of Robin Hood is atmospheric as well as exciting preparing the audience for action. The camera slowly roves over the Bayeux Tapestry, an embroidered portrayal of the Battle of Hastings, while the credits roll in front. Orchestral, battle music is played in the background, as a small caption asserting a historical fact connoting Robin Hood existed at the time stated, couldn’t possibly be true. This device used by the director, of using a true fact, is intended to make the film seem more realistic and believable. However despite the lack of historical accuracy the audience begin to be drawn into the film and are ready to suspend their disbelief. The music dies down from its peak, creating an atmosphere of suspense, preparing the audience for the high-tensioned scene they are about to see.

The difference in the nature of the films would require the directors to consider their audiences wisely. For the director of Ghandi understood that any straying from the truth would inevitably lead to damning consequences. The change in music and exotic scene the setting sun in a Middle Eastern country perhaps lends atmosphere as well as mystery. The fable Robin Hood is a well-known one, which wouldn’t rouse much interest unless the film offered an original more exciting version. A famous poem about man and the river Ganges dissolves slowly from the screen as close up/blurry shot of a tree with the sun behind it appears, then focuses on an Asian man’s face, drawing the audience into the action. The contrast from the full picture of society at the beginning, to the small focus on one man, adds variety and concentrates the viewers.

The audience is able to see a sweat stain on the character’s shirt, indicating anxiety and a warm climate. The cram of many people into a medium shot furthers the audience’s curiosity, as does the camera swivelling to observe an old grey haired man on a cart. He nods with a rather conspiratorial smile. The man turns again and joins the bustling crowd, while two Indian guards tell the people to ‘follow the others’. It seems the purpose of this diversion is to show that political/religious extremists carefully planned Ghandi’s assassination.

The rapid movements of the camera diminish as we see, as if through the man’s eyes, an over-the-shoulder shot of a lush garden with a supposed colonial mansion appear. The impression given by looking at the mansion is the man is looking at the hated power that has oppressed him and his people for so long; ostensibly gearing him up to carry on his weary way; the music adds a certain amount of apprehension to the scene.

In Robin Hood the camera pauses on a blackened screen before the action begins. The sound of a man wailing in pain is played, which introduces us into the setting, which is of a dark, airless, dungeon. An under shot of a fat dirty man smiling deviously, then nodding is featured while the camera pivots to show a similarly revolting character. Acknowledging the nod of command, the second man lifts a machete from the open fire as a direct undershot films the smoking, hissing knife slamming down. We are not yet aware of what the knife is slicing into which creates suspense as well as anguish.

The tormented howls of a man answers the question as we see a long shot of a shaft of light seeping in through the window, which shines on the mutilated man as he is dragged away. The camera moves even further away from the scene to the back of the dungeon enabling viewers to see the faces of two white, extremely filthy men in chains, who obviously are prisoners. The backlighting behind the two characters silhouettes their faces, creating a mysterious mood, enhancing their drawn features. Robin Hood, (we discover a little later) is dressed in bedraggled grimy rags, hair filthy and ruffled. Upon first glance he could be mistaken as a representation of Jesus, adding to his courageous character later in the film.

They both look over to the opposite wall, the camera following their gaze to where a black prisoner is crouching; the shaft of light allowing him to be visible on screen. The look shared by all three men is that of anger and comradeship. These are the men who will no doubt be of most importance to the film. The pace is increased as one of the white prisoners are accused of stealing bread by one of the guards. The credits at the beginning have already informed us that the prisoners are English and the Guards Saracens. Again historical fact is ignored, and it is rather ironic that the Saracens are portrayed to be evil, sadistic torturers who kill the English for no apparent reason, when in fact it was quite the reverse. But the director is permitted to take some liberties with the truth, for Robin Hood is English and in order for the film to have purpose he must appear to be the hero.

To ensure there is no debate about who is good or evil, the Saracen guard is made to seem awfully unjust when he exclaims both will be mutilated for Robin’s fellow prisoner who is accused of stealing bread, and Robin heroically wanting to take the punishment. As Robin is dragged unceremoniously away the other prisoner is made to look the weaker party, as Robin stands up to the guard and places his hand on the bench. The light and camera are in front illuminating his facial expression. A point of view shot is used to illustrate the gleeful, malicious smile Robin can see on the guard’s face.

We hear the other prisoner shouting to Robin to, ‘not do it’, as Robin gallantly answers, “This is the English Courage”. Robin is portrayed as gallant beyond belief, with just this one statement. ‘The English courage’, insinuating he is a kind of ambassador for his whole nation, representing his entire country. The music begins threateningly in the background as the guard nods again, the audience aware of what this means. The second guard lifts the knife again. It is an under shot with the lighting behind, enhancing the largeness and evil appearance of the second guard.

As the blade is about to slice the camera swiftly changes position to where the first guard is knelling holding Robin’s hand. The music gets louder as Robin pulls the rope. We hear the knife slam down and a wail from the guard, but not Robin. The pace quickens and the music becomes unbearably loud and confusing as Robin snatches the machete from the bench and slices the first guard. The camera shots are changed rapidly as piercing screams, slashing knives and orchestral music sound as Robin and the other prisoners fight their oppressors (the guards). Tension and suspense are at its peak as Robin slashes at the metal chains holding his friend. The camera is at a medium shot, slightly below, making Robin appear taller. The sparks from the machete hitting the metal chains are captured expertly from underneath. The black prisoner calls Robin from behind. The anxiety in the man’s voice is prominent as he pleads to be set free.

The prisoner behind Robin screams ‘the guards are coming’. The atmosphere is charged with nervousness as Robin asks the prisoner why he should set him free. The black prisoner responds, “because if you do not we are all dead men!” This hesitation in action serves to heighten the tenseness to an even greater climax. Robin cuts the rope and all three men depart. Honourable as ever, Robin apologizes to one of the prisoners for not setting him free. An under shot of the guards running across the dungeon in heavy, tattered clothing makes them appear especially merciless and dangerous. The director’s use similar techniques in creating apprehension in the audience, mainly music

As the man in Ghandi comes nearer to the road, the music intensifies and more musical instruments are brought in. As the crowd thickens by the roadside, we see the man straining his neck to look above the crowd. Again an over the shoulder shot is used. Through the dense crowd we see a frail, withered man wrapped in a course cotton cloth. His especially pathetic and delicate exterior is strengthened by his dependence on two ladies to walk. The music comes to a peak when the frail man appears, with violins twanging chillingly in the background.

The determined man pushes his way through the crowd and gets to the front. There is a big close up in the man’s face as he puts his hands up as if to pray. We also see a close up of Ghandi who too puts his hands up. This scene is quite ironic, for the lifting of the hands from both men signifies power. The sphere shape they both make could perhaps symbolize the world, as well as how to control it, and the differences between the two men. Ghandi’s power comes from his belief in morals, non-violence and perseverance. The other man’s strength occurs through killing and fighting for your own beliefs and point of view. The man kneels to Ghandi as if to kiss his feet. We hear one of the women say ‘it isn’t time for prayers now’. The pace quickens as a bowl is bashed out of the women’s hands. There is a close up of the man pointing a gun. The camera’s pace is quickened to such a pace that it obscures details such as were the gun came from, this perhaps intentionally done since the events leading to Ghandi’s death hasn’t been exactly proven.

A close up of Ghandi as he is shoot three times is screened. We hear the wailing as he falls to the ground saying, ‘oh God, oh God’. This almost comical ending to such a great man’s life is rather perverse, yet brings home the reality of his life, and the film.

There are no great last words or dramatic music. One of the similarities between Ghandi and Robin Hood is they are both heroes, but in very different ways. Ghandi isn’t represented as the archetypal super hero, but quite the opposite; delicate, skinny and religious, who instead of fighting a huge force like the British Empire with violence, like a ‘real’ male protagonist should, he uses non-violence and non co-operative methods. Robin Hood on the other hand is the big strong hero who can do no wrong.

This great man who lead a nation to independence against all odds, is shot and all he can say is ‘Oh God!’ Yet this actually is more effective than a great ending with dramatic wailing. The audience can feel compassion for him and appreciate that he was simply human. The fact that he dies like everyone else rings home to the audience that yes, one man can make a huge difference. The director didn’t want to screen Ghandi to be a great hero because people can see for themselves that he was.

There is a complete switch in scenes from Ghandi lying down shocked, to a big close up of the heavy black boots of an army, marching. The camera shifts yet again to a very long-distance shot from high above, viewing a huge crowd all packed into an incredibly long street, the crowd extending to suggestively to the point of infinity. From this vast scene the camera centres in on white material covered with flowers. The camera moves down and there is a big close up of Ghandi’s face.

There is a man standing by the coffin being carried by the cart. From this superior position we presume he is a political leader of some kind, perhaps Nehru or Jinnah. He is crying and mopping his face with a handkerchief. The scene shows to the extent of the people’s respect and mourning for Ghandi. There isn’t a hint of satirical humour in the voice of the British commentator outlining the greatness of Ghandi, even though Ghandi undermined the British/Indian Army marching in the procession, and caused the army to lose most of its authority and power. The director of Ghandi decided to begin his film at the end, when Ghandi dies. Robin Hood begins right at the beginning. Presumably the director of Robin Hood wanted his film to be an adventure where the audience are kept in suspense, not knowing what will happen next.

The camera swivels to an under shot of a guard shooting an arrow. One of the men is targeted then falls. Robin kneels to the dying mans side. They are both in shadow silhouetted by the moon behind them. The man pleads with Robin to take his ring to his sister (I suppose a reason to begin the quest). The man struck by an arrow miraculously still has enough strength to run to the guards, who have caught up with them. This courageous act to deter the guards shows comradeship, and already has begun the film as a ‘buddy movie’.

I presume the ‘Azeem’ character was brought in to appeal to a wider audience (ethnic origin etc). He commits himself to Robin and vows he will not leave until he’s saved his life, like Robin saved his. This creates a reason for his presence in the film.

The director of Robin Hood applied the usual customary mixture of appealing factors to his reproduction: e.g. special effects, popular actors, racial diversity, and all the normal audience pullers. These were all in an attempt to make the film original and modern for a new generation of viewers. Ghandi was in no way a re-make and had never been produced as a movie before, and probably never will be again. It had to be a unique one-off production, which could be used for reference by students etc, of future generations perhaps. The film Ghandi uses no special effects, which illustrates that both films serve different purposes, and are targeted at different audiences.

Ghandi begins at the end, at Ghandi’s death. Robin Hood begins right at the beginning, with the audience full of suspense as to what will happen. Ghandi isn’t a ‘quest’ film like Robin Hood and has no need to keep the audience, in that particular type of suspense. Both directors use a similar technique at creating suspense, music. Ghandi and Robin Hood are presented as very different heroes. As I’ve already explained, they both represent diverse characters that demonstrate heroism in different ways. They are both fighting very unalike kinds of ‘evil’. Racism and injustice perhaps a lot harder to combat than a rather bizarre Devil-worshipper!

Ghandi dies a somewhat disappointing death that doesn’t seem fitting to such a great leader of a nation. However Robin Hood isn’t shown to die at all. Robin is made out to be almost invincible, while Ghandi is a frail, little brave man who can die simply and quietly like everyone else.