Actors say they hate getting typecast, but for Sir Ben Kingsley, “it’s wonderful to be at the receiving end of so much affection” for a role he played almost three decades ago.
The man who has been Mahatma Gandhi for so long in the collective Indian memory is now to play another great figure from our history — Shah Jahan. His approach to the film, Taj Mahal, however, may not be what Indian audiences expect from epic love stories set in the past. Kingsley, who has seen a recent example of that genre — Jodhaa Akbar — and thinks “it’s a beautiful film”, plans to look at love not as a “finished product” but a “struggle”. How so? “Those were difficult times [in which Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal lived] for any love to survive amid the intrigue,” said Kingsley, at an interaction in Galaxy hotel-shopping-spa, Gurgaon, on Thursday, before leaving for Mumbai to attend the premiere of Amitabh Bachchan’s (his co-star from Teen Patti) Paa.
All talk around the film so far gives off arthouse vibes, but Kingsley was quite emphatic that it would be “a very commercial film” made for a worldwide audience. He asked Aishwarya Rai Bachchan to be his Mumtaz Mahal not particularly for any queenly qualities, but for the sheer hard work he saw her put into The Last Legion, a film in which they co-starred. “Every actor has a king and a beggar in them, and she is an actor,” said Kingsley of his choice.
The counterbalance to Mumtaz Mahal is Kandahari Begum, the queen who would be played by Kingsley’s wife Daniela Lavender, this being the couple’s first collaboration as actors. The two visited Agra a day before passing through Gurgaon-Delhi. “When I went to the Taj Mahal, I felt I was in the presence of a miracle,” said Lavender. About three days into her first trip here, she was already struck by how “Indian people love with such passion”. To prepare for her character, she is researching human behaviour first, before taking a dip into Urdu.