No one gets to beat a superhero except a supervillain — and when there’s the ‘genius, billionaire playboy, philanthropist’ Tony Stark aka Iron Man on one side, there can’t be a more formidable adversary other than The Mandarin on the other. Gandhi fame Oscar-award winning actor Sir Ben Kingsley (right), who plays the antagonist in Iron Man 3, lets his guard down about the character and more in an exclusive chat over the phone.
While he has been portrayed as a genius scientist and a superhumanly skilled martial artist in the comic books, the big screen adaptation certainly has some changes. “He pretends to be from Chinese descent but wears a US military uniform beneath. He is inspired by western influences,” says Sir Ben, 69.
Also unlike in the comics, his 10 rings — the primary source of his super power, have been downplayed suggesting these are only for flamboyance in the film. But the actor says, “the rings are definitely empowering.”
The contemporarised version of the iconic character has shadows of terrorist and dictator masterminds such as Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. The actor agrees.
“You’ve hit it there. Mandarin’s character is a take on some of those who you see on TV every week. It is a character about someone who wants to hit at the western civilisation,” says the actor, adding, "When we look at political speeches given by leaders such as Saddam, Gaddafi, Osama bin Laden - look at the assured confidence they arise. They unnecessarily rant and rage and scream, they have no perception of what they are saying."
He further says, "They think they are saviours, who are going to sort the world's problem out. They think they are going to save the world. But sometimes they are totally deranged and they have their own logic. This is where, as an actor, you have to acknowledge it however uncomfortable or bizzare it is. This man (The Mandarin) really believes he is goodness and truth and the guilding light of these people. That's more scary isn't it or frightening?"
Not a comic book fan himself
Sir Ben has been modest enough to admit that you he has never been a comic book fan boy. Ask if it was difficult to prepare for the evil character, he says, "No. The script was so amazing that I got lost into the character. I suppose I have some facilities that allow me to do this and allow me to enjoy being an actor. So I read the script, learned the lines thoroughly so I wouldn't let my colleagues down on the set."
"So when we all had our lines on the set, it was like mixing chemicals together that would react with each other in a wonderful way, and that's what happened. Honestly it was very much on the set and not off the set preparation apart from learning the script properly," he adds.
Ask him if he is ready to shock his desi fans with his evil transition after playing Mahatma Gandhi in the 1982 biopic, Sir Ben says, “I think the Indian cinema going audience clearly appreciates acting. I hope they’ll appreciate both sides — the light and the dark - both sides of humanity and the performances that I'm immensely proud of.”