Acclaimed actor Sir Ben Kingsley said he enjoyed portraying a soft-spoken Sikh cab driver in new Hollywood movie Learning To Drive.
The Oscar winner plays Darwan Singh Tur, a Sikh proud of his identity who also works as a driving instructor, in the recently released film.
“To feel the tightness of (the turban) on my head was really gratifying. As Sikhs are warriors, I felt I was putting on my armour, which is a glorious feeling,” said Kingsley.
He stars opposite Emmy award-winning actress Patricia Clarkson in the story of a middle-aged housewife, dumped by an adulterous husband, who aims to get her self-esteem back by taking driving lessons from a lonely Sikh man. The two develop a bond of friendship and help each other as they battle difficulties in their own lives.
Kingsley said New York City-based social activist Harpreet Singh Toor provided valuable help during the shooting of the movie, telling him about the minute mannerisms of a Sikh and helping him tie the turban. He also paid a glowing tribute to the Sikh community in the city, who invited the crew to shoot scenes in the local gurdwara (temple).
“The crew was so grateful to have had the opportunity to work there. The temple is a beautiful island of order, decency, worship and family in a sea of neurosis. It is a calm island in the middle of Queens,” he said.
The comedy drama throws light on the persecution faced by the Sikh community in India, a reason that forces Kingsley’s character to seek political asylum in the US. It also touches on the issue of discrimination faced by Sikhs in America post 9/11.
“The Sikh drivers after 9/11 turned off all their metres and were slowing down and asking people, ‘where is your loved one, I will help you find them’; all the Sikh community in New York, which is beautiful. It is a complete reversal of what they are stamped with.”
Kingsley hopes that after watching Learning To Drive, people will learn more about the caring nature of Sikhs. “This is all I can hope for. People may have thoughts after the film that they wouldn’t have had, had they not seen the film,” he said.
He explained that his character is shown as a calm person despite receiving racial abuse because he has suffered personally and that has made him compassionate.
“He (Darwan) suffered personally, he lost. Loss can make you bitter or it can give you compassion. Fortunately for him it gave him compassion for others.”
Looking ahead, Kingsley wants to realise a long-held dream of portraying Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and tell the story of the Taj Mahal.
“It is one of my hopes, to play him (Shah Jahan); an incredible man, engineer, philosopher, poet, architect, warrior. I would love to (play him on screen). I am fascinated by him,” he said.