From Gandhi to Shah Jahan
combination set to reincarnate the age romance
Oscar award winning British actor Ben Kingsley made his mark in
global cinema with his performance as Mohandas Gandhi in the film Gandhi
in 1982. Now nearly three decades later the gifted actor is back with
another powerhouse performance, this time as the Mughal emperor Shah
Jahan. He will be romancing Aishwarya Rai in the role of Mumtaz Mahal.
* Birth name is Krishna
* Has won Oscar, BAFTA,
Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards in his career
* First film role was a
supporting turn in Fear Is the Key in 1972
* Latest project is Ma tin
Scorseseís Shutter Island alongside Leonardo DiCaprio
Kingsley visited India to take part in the Goa International Film
Festival last year. The following are excerpts from an interview with
Q: After Ghandhi you have made several films from Schindlerís List to
Sexy Beast. What kind of diversity do you see in your roles?
A: I felt that there might be a common thread that connects all the
roles. Maybe they are all different sides of me. May be they are all
different sides of mankind. Maybe all mankind is in each and every one
of us. I played a very violent role in a film called Sexy Beast. It was
the complete opposite of Mahathma. Many journalists in the West, in fact
one journalist referred to me as bipolar because I was able to portray
Mahathma and the violent gangster, Don Lovan,
I do believe we all have a Don Lovan and a Mahathma in all of us. I
think itís the actorís choice and the actorís power to show his audience
that humanity is in every individual, and that we are all connected.
Q: What about your latest production, Taj Mahal?
A: Well I suppose its either very foolish or either very brave of me
to attempt to portray Shah Jahan as a historical giant of this culture.
I can show me as a human being, with vulnerabilities as well as
strengths as a man amongst us that somebody removed from us, then
possibly I maybe able to add to the many explanations and stories on how
the Taj got there in the first place.
Itís a remarkable building. Itís a scream of pain frozen in marble
and I want to examine how great that pain was and how in extreme moments
we can produce remarkable things that will last forever.
It is a monument dedicated to love and hundreds of years later itís
still there and itís still visited as a pilgrimage by lovers all over
I want to offer to the modern world this Indian masterpiece that has
become a touchstone of love universally. My reasons for the act are
feelings of empathy and affection. I wish to show his vulnerable nature
as well as his strengths.
Q: Tell about the Satyajit Ray Foundation,
A: There is a Satyajith Ray Foundation in London. Itís run by a
friend of Richard Attenborough. Even before I was offered the role of
Gandhi, I had the good fortune to see some of Rayís films when I was in
Tugginmypudha in The Love Guru
Kepesh in Elegy
in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
I find that his epic understanding of the human struggle is equal to
Shakespeares and Tolstoys. Itís absolutely genius in narrative style, in
story telling and elevating what could seem to be a small insignificant
struggle of one human being into something as brilliant as King Lear or
Hamlet from Shakespeare or as good as War and Peace from Tolstoy. He
takes a small portion and fills the screen with it.
Q: What effect did playing Ghandhi have on you?
A: When I finished filming, I thought that the elastic that I had
stretched to be Ghandhi, it would snap back to its usual shape. Today I
was with the Governor of Goa in his beautiful residence and there was an
extraordinary portrait on the wall of Nehru and Gandhi. I stood under
the portrait of Gandhi and I did something that youíre not allowed to do
to all paintings. I stroked his cheeks because whatís left in me of
Gandhi is love. I absolutely love him and he is like a piece of music.
He is a silhouette that can move me to tears just by looking at him.
Q: When you do a role like you did in Gandhi you risk the chance of
being alienated by other film-makers. Since you have done so much
justice to the role do you think youíll only be thought of as Gandhi?
A: Well I was very fortunate that the two films I did after Gandhi
was written by a great British writer called Harold Inter.
I acted in both these films and since these two films were completely
modern, they took place in London and the suburbs of England.
It helped a great deal to show to other producers that it might be
possible for me to do other things. This led to a very rich and varied
I agree. Some producers have no imagination whatsoever and they can
only see me playing one role and it is very unfortunate that some actors
are forced to play basically the same role over and over again. The
blessing is that Gandhi is not a type you can replicate or reproduce.
There is no such thing as a role like Gandhi because there isnít one
and that also helped me to swim through troubled waters in my career.
Q: Which roles have been closest to your heart?
A: In House of Sand and Fog I played an Iranian Air Force Colonel who
came to America and tried to build a life for his family in a house that
he thought he owned. There was something about his role, his struggle
and his sense of honour that was very close to me.
Q: Any favourite director in India?
A: We are all great admirers of Nihru Nya. I think she is absolutely
remarkable. I love her work. The budget of Taj will be around 26 to 27
million. The script arrived four days ago. My wife is going to be in the
film. She will play Shah Jahanís first wife and we are hoping that
Aishwarya Rai approves the script and take on the role of Mumtaz.
(Based on an interview at the Goa film festival held last year). Sent
by Sanath Gunatileke