Why Do We Need a Fake Gandhi?: Morarji Had Asked Attenborough

"Why do we need a 'nakli' (fake) Gandhi to portray the Mahatma?" This question was posed by former Prime Minister Morarji Desai when he raised strong objections to allowing Richard Attenborough to shoot for his iconic film "Gandhi" at the historic Aga Khan Palace here because he had cast a British actor--Ben Kingsley--to play the role of the Mahatma.

Recalling this, Shobhana Ranade, the then secretary of Gandhi National Memorial Society (GNMS) trust, caretaker of the Aga Khan palace premises, said it was not a smooth sailing for the legendary British filmmaker when he sought permission to shoot scenes relating to last days of Mahatma Gandhi's wife Kasturba spent at the Aga Khan palace.

Oscar-winning British filmmaker Attenborough, who struggled for 20 years to bring the life of Mahatma Gandhi on-screen in 1982 film 'Gandhi', passed away on Sunday, just four days before his 91st birthday.

"Former Prime Minister Morarji Desai, a known Gandhian, was chairman of GNMS when Attenborough's unit sought permission to shoot in the precincts of the palace which also has a 'samadhi' of Kasturba who spent her last days there," Ranade told PTI.

"Why do we need a 'nakli' (fake) Gandhi to portray the Mahatma?," 90-year-old Ranade quoted Desai as having asked while explaining his objection to the idea of a Britisher playing the part of Gandhi.

Finally, the permission was granted after much deliberations and Attenborough was told about "Do's and Don'ts" for his ten-day shoot at the Aga Khan palace which was also witness to imprisonment of Gandhi at Yeravada prison here during the freedom struggle.

"We told him that consumption of alcohol and non- vegetarian food is strictly prohibited on the premises and the trustees had a zero tolerance policy towards those who violate these norms," Ranade said, adding, Attenborough, who was accompanied by his wife Sheila, accepted all their conditions wholeheartedly and graciously.

"He used to call me whenever they took their food during the shoots, playfully asking to inspect the stuff to ensure there was no alcohol or meat," she reminisced.

Citing an instance of Attenborough's ingenuity as a director, Ranade said she saw him asking Ben Kingsley to redo a scene of a dhoti-clad Gandhi climbing up stairs at least 50 times, insisting on a correct gait of a "Kathewadi Gujarati."

"He was wonderful and a very warm human being, besides a great film maker. He sent me Christmas greetings every year without fail. This year I am going to miss it," she said.

Noted actress Rohini Hattangadi, who played the role of Kasturba in 'Gandhi', said, "I was supposed to look frail during the last days leading to Kasturba's death. I was young when the film was shot (during 1981-82) and Sir Richard asked me to do dieting to get slimmer. I did as I was told, overcoming my pangs of hunger to get the results."

"He was very helpful and always smiling and never expressed his disappointment if an actor was found wanting," she added.

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