Indians would always remember Richard Attenborough, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 90, as the director of Gandhi, the Oscar-winning 1982 biopic on MK Gandhi. Nearly three and half decades after India's Independence, Attenborough deftly internationalised Gandhi's role in the Indian freedom struggle—it is said that the movie spread the word of passive resistance much further than the global attention on Gandhi had managed during his lifetime.
Though an exceptionally gifted actor as well, he essayed most of his memorable roles just off the spotlight, as supporting characters or as part of ensemble casts—be it as a British officer plotting an escape from a
German PoW camp (The Great Escape) or as Lew Moran, the alcoholic navigator of a plane that crashes in the desert (Flight of the Phoenix). Younger moviegoers would perhaps remember him best as John Hammondfrom Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park. But acting always came second to direction for Attenborough. Chaplin and Shadowlands, his final directorial ventures, received great critical acclaim. The Attenborough ethos was perhaps best encapsulated in his Gandhi experience. The movie took 20 years to make with Hollywood producers treating it as a project with little or no box-office promise. Finally, Attenborough turned the producer himself, selling a house in the London suburbs and artworks he owned to create his magnum opus. The movie went on to make twenty times the money that had gone into producing it. Such was the pull of Attenborough's craft.