Over the years, many actors have portrayed Mahatma Gandhi on screen, ranging from Naseeruddin Shah to Darshan Zariwala. Some of these performances have been feted and awarded as well. Yet, Sir Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of India’s father of the nation remains the gold standard against which all performances are measured. And it is not as if this reputation has built over time. Even when Sir Ben was shooting for Gandhi, he had the locals so confused with his look that many felt he was the late leader’s ghost. On his 153rd birth anniversary, let’s have a look at this bizarre, yet true anecdote. Also read: Gandhi actor Ben Kingsley once revealed 400,000 Indians participated in film’s funeral scene: ‘There was no CGI’
Gandhi, directed by Richard Attenborough, was released in 1982. The film also starred Rohini Hattangadi, Roshan Seth, Alyque Padamsee, and Saeed Jaffrey among others. Critically acclaimed and commercially successful, the film made $127 million globally and won eight Oscars, including Best Actor for Sir Ben Kingsley.
In a 2012 interview with Indian Express, director Richard Attenborough touched upon the actor’s physical resemblance to Mahatma Gandhi. “Physical resemblance was a prerequisite,” he said, adding, “I had Ben Kingsley in mind for five years, from the first time I saw him. Nobody struck me as Ben did.” He then revealed that when they shot across India, locals would often gather to watch the shoot and many of them were scared of seeing Sir Ben, as they thought he was Gandhi’s ghost.
To prepare for his role, Ben Kinngsley not only studied newsreel footage of Gandhi to adopt his mannerisms and gait but also lost weight and practised yoga. He even learnt to spin thread just as Gandhi did.
Born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1869, Mahatma Gandhi was given this moniker by Rabindra Nath Tagore. He was the foremost figure in the Indian independence struggle, espousing the principle of non-violent protest and leading the independence movement for over three decades. His birth anniversary–October 2–is celebrated as Gandhi Jayanti each year.