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  Asia-Pacific
Ben Kingsley Hopes to Be an Envoy for Cinema
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
South Asia Editor
Sir Ben Kingsley

Marrakech — Sir Ben Kingsley, who was paid a tribute by the ongoing Marrakech International Film Festival here, found fame only in 1982 with his Oscar winning role as and in Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi.” This was 10 years after he began acting in movies, his first being a supporting part in “Fear is the Key”. Born Krishna Pandit Bhanji to a British actress-model mother and an Indian doctor father, Kingsley has had an enduring passion for India, although his father’s grandparents had been living in Zanzibar before they settled in England.

Kingsley’s initiation into show business came through Shakespearean stage, and at a Press conference here yesterday, he said how he had been made to play four different characters all in a week’s time. This went on for weeks and weeks. The characters were from the Bard’s works, and “beautifully written”. Such punishing schedule and stretching gave him an appetite for variety. And we have seen that over the years.

On screen, he has played widely diverse characters from monstrous villains to the very of apostle of peace. The last one I saw him was as a college professor in “Elegy”, a serious and somber daytime academic activity that was followed by serial wooing of young girls after sunset. Of course in the end, it turns out to be a lovely love story.

In the 1993 “Schindler’s List” by Steven Spielberg, Kingsley played the protagonist’s Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern. In Roman Polanski’s “Death and the Maiden”, he was a brutal Fascist officer who enjoyed raping and torturing a blindfolded woman. Kingsley essayed Fagin, who heads a band of boy-pickpockets, in “Oliver Twist” (also by Polanski). The British actor would soon be seen in Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island”, a psychological thriller, followed by “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”. Directed by Mike Newell, this film was shot in Morocco, where, as he said, he fell in love with the people. “They love especially children, and in a world where pedophilia is big business, Morocco blooms like an oasis”, he commented.

Kingsley is now preparing to be Shah Jahan, one of the greatest Mughal kings India has known, and whose monument of love is so exquisite that a foreign visitor to the country hardly every misses seeing it. Shah Jahan had earlier been portrayed in cinema by Pradeep Kumar with Bina Rai essaying Mumtaz Mahal. This time, Aishwarya Rai would pair with Kingsley. The U.S.-25-million project, produced by him, will be shot in India next autumn. He is now scouting for a director, having made up his mind that he himself would not helm the biopic.

In the ultimate analysis, Kingsley said “I hope to be an ambassador for cinema”. In these difficult days for the medium, when it is torn between art and commerce, it is imperative that movies spoke about human suffering and struggle. “A lot of films made now are long commercials to sell Pepsi Cola. They do not relate to us as human beings. They simply need to be consumed to make money. If you understand the history of cinema and its ability to touch people’s hearts, then it is hugely important. I want cinema to touch people’s hearts and stop touching people’s wallets”, he added amidst a loud applause from journalists. Kingsley had certainly touched their hearts, and he is now ready to court India through the epic love story of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz.

Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering the Marrakech International Film Festival for several years.



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Other Articles by Gautaman Bhaskaran
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Modi Is the Man We Need in India


Gautaman Bhaskaran is a veteran film critic and writer who has covered Cannes and other major international festivals, like Venice, Berlin, Montreal, Melbourne, and Fukuoka over the past two decades. He has been to Cannes alone for 15 years. He has worked in two of India’s leading English newspapers, The Hindu and The Statesman, and is now completing an authorized biography of India’s auteur-director, Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Penguin International will publish the book, whose research was funded by Ford Foundation.

 

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