National treasure Sir Ben Kingsley has claimed that film makers will “step up to the plate” when there is a demand for more diversity in cinema.
The Oscar-winning actor, who plays a Sikh taxi driver in New York in his latest movie Learning to Drive, told Eastern Eye that the industry needed to be sensitive to the environment and culture of its audience.
“As soon as there is a demand in the audience for the immense variety that is life, film makers will step up to the plate,” Sir Ben said.
“It has to be driven from audience demand. There has to be an appetite to see films that come from the real patterns of human existence so that we could look forward to films that draw upon our wonderful pool of different types, sizes and sexes.”
The veteran actor portrays Darwan – a soft-spoken cabbie by night and driving instructor by day who enters into an arranged marriage with a bride from his village in India. He strikes up an unusual friendship with fiery Manhattan book critic Wendy, played by Patricia Clarkson, whose husband has left her for a younger woman.
“An accident draws them together. She is a top literary critic in New York, which is the capital of publishing. She leaves a manuscript when she is in great distress in her life in the back of his cab, sobbing and running back into her home because she has been deserted,” explained Sir Ben.
“A few hours later, he finds her manuscript in the back of his cab, and being a gentleman as well as a Sikh, he returns it and they develop a journey together.”
Sir Ben described Darwan as “an ancient soul who is banished from his home” and said the film could have been set 1,000 years ago if the protagonist had a different trade.
“The same dilemmas and same challenges would exist, the same barriers would have to come down,” he said.
His character, part of a tight-knit Sikh community in Queens, is targeted by racists and Islamaphobes who wrongly believe he is a Muslim.
Addressing the issue of discrimination, Sir Ben said: “The extraordinary thing about filming in Queens, which is where many Sikhs live, is that even after a Sikh temple was invaded and people were shot at mistaken for Taliban, they invited us into their temple.
“That is immediately an enormous gesture that will redress the balance of the stereotype. We were (filming) with real Sikhs playing the tabla, singing, playing the lovely accordion.
“The closer you get to genuine patterns of human behaviour, the more healing story telling will be.”