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‘Martin Scorsese directs like a lover’

Sir Ben Kingsley on working with the legendary filmmaker, Amitabh Bachchan and a Disney movie.

india Updated: May 30, 2010 13:08 IST
Roshmila Bhattacharya
Roshmila Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times

In marketing jargon, what is the USP of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island for the Indian audience ?
It’s a character-driven film, a dramatic, almost poetic examination of souls in deep crisis. The audiences I’ve interacted with in different parts of the world, have been swept along, not in the way of a 3D action thriller but in a psychological manner. They have felt the heartbeats and the pulses of these characters, and empathised with their anger, anxieties and triumphs. And since Indians are not afraid of emotions, I think they’d respond to the life-enhancing celluloid drama as positively.

Five years from now, what will you remember about Shutter Island?
Without giving away too much, I’d say, the last scene with Leonardo (Di Caprio). That one scene will stay with me forever. The film released in the UK in February and is coming to India on June 4. In the interim, a lot of people would have caught it on home video. May be, but a film like this needs to be watched with an audience, for its extraordinary quality of sound, music, just the spoken word alone, rather than by yourself on DVD. For me personally, it is like a great raga or a symphony. You don’t watch it alone, or leave half-way, but in a crowd and wait to hear it to the end.

This seems to be the Sir Ben Kingsley season. Last Friday, you had a release too, Disney’s Prince Of Persia—The Sands Of Time, in which you play the ‘nizam’.
(Laughs) Would you believe it, I completed both these films, back-to-back. I finished Prince Of Persia, returned to London, and a day later, started work on Shutter Island. And if Martin Scorcese is a long-time idol, then, Disney and I too go back to my early childhood.

What’s the first Disney movie you remember watching?
For that, I would have to go back a long, long way. I think it would be Fantasia.

It was interesting to see Caucasian actors speaking Queen’s English in a Persian setting.
For me it was perfect. I started my career in London’s Royal Shakespeare Company with plays like Julius Caesar and Hamlet. The first was set in Rome, the second in Denmark and the third in Italy. Yet, each time, we used plain English.

The other day, I was speaking to one of your old friends, Kabir Bedi, who has dubbed for you in the Hindi verson of Prince Of Persia…
Really? I’m delighted to hear that, give him a hug from me please. I can’t remember when I last met him but Kabir is a dear friend, a wonderful man and a generous actor.

You have already started work on another Scorcese film, The Invention Of Hugo Cabret.
Yes, I’m playing the Frenchman Georges Méliès, Martin’s hero. Like him, Martin too is consumed by the history of cinema. He’s done so much to restore films that have been destroyed. He could be the Georges Méliès of the 21st century. For me, it’s a privilege to be playing a pioneer of cinema while being directed by another.

Scorcese likes collaborating with actors with whom he’s on the same page with. Leonardo Di Caprio and he have already made four films together, Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed and Shutter Island. And now it seems he’s found another soulmate in you.

I don’t know if I’d call myself a soulmate but I am excited to be working with Mr Scorcese again. He is a good friend and we share a wonderful working relationship. If that leads to a history of collaborations, no one would be happier than me.

Reportedly, you’ve come up with an apt nickname for Mr Scorcese… Mr Cinema?
I’m afraid I can’t claim credit for that one though I agree it’s apt. My description of Martin is ‘he directs like a lover’. I haven’t told him this to his face yet. May be I will get the opportunity when we connect again in two weeks.

You had another release, earlier in the year, a Hindi movie, Teen Patti, with Amitabh Bachchan.
I filmed most of my scenes in London and Cambridge. But it was lovely working with Leena Yadav (the film’s director) and Mr Bachchan.

What would you say was the highpoint of your trip to India last winter?
I recall meeting the Governor at his bungalow, conversing with him on a huge verandah with all of Goa below us. It is tranquil moments like this that make India truly memorable.

When do you plan to come down to India again?
Not this year for sure, I have a packed schedule. I’ll be working with Mr Scorcese till the autumn.

What’s happening to your dream project, Taj Mahal, that you were planning to make with another Bachchan, Aishwarya, playing Mumtaz Mahal?
We haven’t cast anyone yet. It’s a long drawn-out process and I’m in talks with my executive producers. The good thing is that we’ve locked on the script. It’s a remarkable story that should roll by 2011.


He changed his name from Krishna Bhanji to Ben Kingsley. His stage surname was inspired by the nickname, King Clove, of his paternal grandfather who was a spice trader in Zanzibar.

Kingsley made his London stage debut in 1966, as the narrator of A Smashing Day, produced by The Beatles manager, Brian Epstein. He wrote the music for the production, sang and played guitar too. After one performance, John Lennon and Ringo Starr came backstage and told him that he should go into music. He was subsequently offered a deal by the same publishers who handled The Beatles but he chose to remain an actor.

He was knighted in the 2002 New Year's Honours on December 31, 2001, on his 58th birthday).Penelope Cruz was unsure how to address him during Elegy. One day, ‘Sir Ben’ slipped out and she called him that for the rest of the shoot.

On Winning the Oscar for Best Actor in Gandhi, Kingsley said, “If I knew I was going to win, I would not have gone dressed as a waiter.”

In 1984, Kinglsey won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word or Nonmusical Recording for The Words of Gandhi. In 1985, he was awarded the Padma Shri.

His performance as Don Logan in Sexy Beast (2000) is ranked No. 97 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).

He has three films on the American Film Institute's 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time: Schindler’s List (1993) at No. 3. Gandhi (1982) at No. 29 and Searching For Bobby Fisher (1993) at No, 96.

In 2007, he got a Razzie nomination for Worst Supporting Actor for BloodRayne (2005). Kinsley is the 2410th star in Hollywood’s Hall of Fame. The honour came to him last Thursday on the eve of the release of Prince Of Persia.

First Published: May 30, 2010 12:54 IST