When Rajiv met Sonia...

Updated on Jan 20, 2006 01:54 PM IST

Director Mundhra's team discovered that the first movie both saw together was Pather Panchali. The return of biopics

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None | ByIndo-Asian News Service, London

Producers working on a film on Indian Congress president Sonia Gandhi - based on journalist Rasheed Kidwai's biography - visited Cambridge and the restaurant where she first met husband Rajiv Gandhi in February 1965.

Directed by Jagmohan Mundhra, the 30 million pounds film is likely to feature Italian actress Monica Bellucci as Sonia. The search is on for an actor to play former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, sources close to the production team said.

Kidwai, whose book Sonia - A Biography (Penguin) has proved a bestseller in India, also visited Cambridge along with Mundhra, screenplay writer Carl Austin and editor Sanjeev.

The film team found that little had changed in the sylvan university town since that Saturday evening in 1965 when Sonia Maino visited the varsity restaurant for dinner on St Andrew's Road. It was here that she met Rajiv, who was then 20-years-old.

Three years later Sonia Maino became Sonia Gandhi.

The film traces Sonia's 40-year journey from the Varsity restaurant to her present role as leader of world's oldest political party and head of India's ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

In Cambridge, the film team was told how on that fateful day in 1965 she was greeted by Charlie Luigi, the owner of Varsity. Sonia wanted a table by the window, but all the tables by the ground floor window were occupied.

So Luigi led the young woman through the restaurant, past the round table in front of the cash desk, where a group of Indian and Pakistani students - Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi, Tahir Jahangir and Suhail Iftekhar - were animatedly discussing politics.

As Sonia walked past, Rajiv was struck by her charm. For Sonia, too, it was love at first sight. Sensing that both were mesmerised, Sonia's German friend Christian did the introductions.

At that time, Rajiv was studying at Trinity College while Sonia was a student of the Lennox Cook School of Languages, the most expensive and reputed school that offered proficiency courses to non-English speaking students.

During his research in Cambridge, Mundhra said he was fascinated that all the houses occupied by Sonia and Rajiv have remained intact. Rajiv shared an apartment at 28, Derwent Close with Arun Singh and Deep Kaul, son of former diplomat TN Kaul.

Sonia had a local host, an Italian woman called Patina who was then 50 years old. Patina, who lived with her boyfriend Saleem, owned several bed and breakfast houses for students.

Sonia was put up at Patina's property at 59, Tennison Row near the station. Sonia also stayed for a short duration at 65, Lensfield Road next to a pub called Spread Eagle.

At Cambridge, the film team discovered that Rajiv and Sonia frequently went to movies. The first movie they saw together was Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali.

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