Attenborough, Gandhi and Degrees of Separation


With the passing of director Sir Richard Attenborough last week, one couldn’t help but notice the prominence of his Oscar-winning film Gandhi at the top of lists of his most memorable work.  (You can see Sir Ben Kingsley’s Oscar acceptance speech here.)

Gandhi poster

Given the important subject of the film and the huge cast of Indian actors it included, it’s no surprise that Indian media widely covered Sir Richard’s death and looked back at the making of that film.

(L-R): Aseem Chhabra, Saeed Jaffrey and Gunter Maria Halmer on the set of the film Gandhi. Photo credit: Aseem Chhabra

Here’s an article by my chum Aseem Chhabra about his work as an extra on Gandhi.  Aseem was also interviewed for this piece on PRI about the experience.

In looking through the long list of actors and directors interviewed on that fave program of mine – BBC’s Desert Island Discs – I was curious to see if and when “Dickie” Attenborough spoke with them and I was very keen to hear the recording.  Sadly, the audio file is not available, but you can see the list of the 8 records he chose and also the one book and one luxury he would bring to his desert island.  And dekhiye just what his choice of book was:  the biography of Mahatma Gandhi. Keep in mind, this was back in 1964, almost two decades before he ever set about filming the great opus.

On a related note, while the Saeed Jaffrey interview on Desert Island Discs doesn’t touch on the making of Gandhi, he does speak at some length about his work on another big Bharat-themed epic of the time: David Lean’s A Passage to India.  Jaffrey is a great raconteur and his imitations of we Amrikans is priceless.  The show is definitely worth a listen.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also point out that the cast of Gandhi included a couple of people with close ties to Ireland:  Martin Sheen played journalist Vince Walker, and a very young Daniel Day-Lewis had a small role.  (Lewis has held an Irish passport since 1993 and resides part of the year in Wicklow.)

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