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ROHINI HATTANGADI tells JYOTHI VENKATESH, who has known Rohini Hattangadi and her late theatre stalwart husband Jaydev Hattangadi for a long time.

It was an interesting evening recently to listen to the veteran actress Rohini Hattangadi speaking eloquently on her experience while working with director Sir Richard Attenborough for his International film Gandhi with Ben Kingsley playing the role of Mahatma Gandhi and Rohini herself playing the role of his wife Kasturba Gandhi.

The grand event Gandhi & Hindi was organized by the PR person turned veteran event organizer Keshav Rai at the Vyanjan Banquets at Andheri where among others this correspondent also spoke about the various actors who have over the last several years acted in the role of Mahatma Gandhi in various films

What was your initial reaction when you were zeroed in for the role of Kasturba Gandhi in Gandhi?

At the outset, let me frankly confess that as a Science student who had studied with Marathi as the medium as my mother tongue is Marathi, my first task before I bagged the role of Kasturba Gandhi was to fly to London for the screen test .

I was flabbergasted when I realized that besides me, the other actors who had come down for the screen test were none other than stalwarts from the theatre like Naseeruddin Shah, Smita Patil and Bhakti Barve.

I kept my fingers crossed for the role and was lucky when Sir Richard Attenborough zeroed in on me for the role.

Were you nervous when you face the camera for the shooting?

I was not at all nervous at all when I had to face the camera for the shooting of the film because I had studied acting at the National School of Drama but confess that I did not at all know how big a project Gandhi was going to be when I had signed for the film.

Luckily, as I said, if I had known right in advance how big the project was going to be internationally, maybe I’d have become tense on the sets.

I was only 27 when I played the role of Kasturba Gandhi. Another thing that went in my favor was the fact that both the foreheads of Kasturba and mine were similar though we did not have any striking resemblance as far as any other vital body part was concerned.

First of all I made it a point to read the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi to know about the various interesting aspects of his life.

Then I read a book by Vanmala on Kasturba Gandhi who had met Kasturba in person. I also searched all over Delhi for a book written on Kasturba Gandhi called Hamari Baa to prepare to get into the skin of my character in the film Gandhi.

Do you make it a point to understand all characters that you set out to do as an actor?

I admit that from each and every character that I have essayed in my career till date, whether it was in plays or TV serials or for that matter films, I have made it a point to learn all about my characters.

Ultimately you have to act as per what your script dictates to you, however you may read books on a person for any number of times.

The film was in English and not Marathi and hence I had to undergo lectures on elocution to learn to speak in fluent English.

My ‘t’ and ‘d’ ought to be fit if I were to enact the character of Katurba in English, you see.

I also had to learn to work on a charkha with Ben Kingsley for not just a month before the shoot but two months.

I had to learn how to work on the charkha and also speak my dialogues without obstructing both.

How were your interactions with Ben Kingsley and Sir Richard Attenborough?

I went to Delhi a month before the shooting commenced and stayed there with my set designer and Ben Kingsley.

My costume designer also made it a point to stay in Delhi with us. Ben also had to learn lessons in yoga before the shoot commenced.

Of course Sir Richard Attenborough was also there to supervise all the actors. Ben and I also exchanged notes on various topics.

I suggested that Ben and I walk on the streets to observe the common people and touch their hearts. We went to Connaught Place where no one noticed either Ben or me.

How did you grasp the character of Kasturba with ease?

I was told that Kasturba was an illiterate lady who hailed from Porbandar and when she went to South Africa with Gandhi, she was taught how to use the fork and spoon while eating.

When Gandhiji was away, it was Kasturba who managed the ashram with aplomb. I also learnt that Kasturba walked behind her husband Gandhiji and was not dragged behind him.

Kasturba suffered a lot but not once did she complain to Gandhiji about anything.

I learnt so much about the broad minded nature of Kasturba that today I am ready to forgive anyone even a second or a third time and do not carry any grudge at all.

You were not a novice when you acted in Gandhi and had acted in Hindi films before Gandhi. Isn’t it?

Till date I have acted in around 70 films in various languages including Marathi, Hindi and even Malayalam.

To answer your question, before Gandhi, I had acted in only three films Chakra, Aravind Desai Ki Ajeeb Daastan and Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai, though I had acted in several plays in both Marathi as well as Hindi.

My intense training in acting at the National School of Drama came in very handy to me in carving out my own path as a theatre as well as film actor till today.

It was my training at the National School of Drama that enabled me not only to approach but also rise above any role that I am asked to do as far as my career is concerned till date.

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