Yesterday, courtesy Dynasty Culture Club, I had a most civilised evening. Perhaps, a little too civilised. I sat in the auditorium of the Nehru Centre, next to Mr. Homi Mulla, and listened to Mr. Ben Kingsley (Gandhi) and Mr. Alyque Padamsee (Jinnah) talking to each other for two-and-a-quarter hours.
The stage had two swivel chairs and a small table with a spray of orchids First, Mr. Ronnie Screwvalla en tered and announced another novel presentation by the Dynast Club. Then the two conversationalists entered, dressed sober and informal, meaning jackets but not matching, and took their seat to police appalause from the audience.
The conversation went off very smooth (none of those – so, how do you like India?); it could not have been otherwise with two such veteran stage practitioners. Mr. Kingsley talked about his India connection. The grandfather who sailed out as a child from Porbander and prospered in Zanzibar to become the Clove King.
Porbander, Gandhiji's hometown, was the evening's first coincidence. There were others. Mr. Kingsley and Mr. Padamsee discovered that they were both Aga Khani Muslims. And yet another coincidence. The naqli Gandhi and Jinnah and the alsi Gandhi and Jinnah, all came from a very small area of Gujarat, between Porbunder, Jamnagar, from where the Padamsees came to Bombay to enhance its advertising and theatre world.
Mr. Kingsley narrated his experiences with Dickey Attenborough, Mr. Padamsee with Richard Attenbough. Mr. Kingsley narrated an incident between Attenborough and Joseph E. Levin, Mr. Padamsee between Attenborough and Darryl F. Zanuck.
In between, there were relevant shots from various films, projected on a screen behind them. Mr. Padamsee would call out: "Roll it, Hosi" – and, after some hesitations in the dark, the film would come on the screen.
There was one small enactment. Mr. Kingsley acted out how a veteran Gandhi an advised him on Gandhiji's mannerism. He moved to the wings, put on a Gandhi cap, and tottered back to the chair, clearing his throat.
Throughout, the audience was well behaved. Civilised, I think, would be a more appropriated description. There were several film-maker in the audience. All seemed to have been forgotten and forgiven now. The resentment over a foreigner making a Gandhi film and a foreigner acting as Gandhi.
That is how it should be. Though, I think, an Indian film producer could have made an equally good Gandhi, though it would not have won a single Oscar, forget eight.