Aga Khan Palace in Pune has a link to Oscar-winning film Gandhi and its director Sir Richard Attenborough. It was shot for 10 days at the palace, during which, a lasting bond was created between the then secretary of the Gandhi National Memorial Society’s Shobhana Ranade and Attenborough, who breathed his last on Sunday.
Ranade said she always received a new year greeting cards from the Attenborough family and remembers him as a “strict disciplinarian” and a man with warmth.
Almost 33 years since the film was shot in the city, Ranade remembers how she talked to members of the Gandhi Society to convince them about a “foreigner” making a film on Gandhi.
“It was in the year 1981-82 when I learnt from Delhi about Sir Richard Attenborough, who was going to make a film on Gandhi, that he would come to Pune for shooting at Aga Khan Palace. I was thrilled, but a few trustees of Gandhi National Memorial Society did not appreciate the making of a film on Gandhi (by an outsider) and felt it would not be original,’’ recounts Ranade.
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She remembers how a senior trustee resigned over the issue and the late Dr RR Divakar, a noted senior Gandhian, was deputed to see that each and every word and scene was scrutinised.
It was only after scrutiny that Attenborough was allowed to shoot the film. “No errors would be tolerated and the director was advised not to shoot in the same room of the palace where Gandhi was imprisoned. The director had readily agreed and appreciated the sentiment and he willingly agreed to observe the discipline laid down by the trustees,” recounts the nonagenarian about the days of the shoot.
Rules cited that inside the monument and on the entire Aga Khan Palace grounds, smoking, alcohol and non-vegetarian food are prohibited and this was followed by the crew of 200.
For ten days, visitors were not allowed and at the end of each day of the shoot, safai workers would sweep and clean the palace before the team left for their hotels.
Ranade remembers Attenborough for his meticulousness. She recounts how the director was a stickler for details. “In a scene, Ben Kingsley who plays the Mahatma was made to climb up and down the marble steps of the palace at least 50 times to get the gait right. Ben patiently continued but was not able to please Richard. When I asked why he was being harsh on the actor, he said he was not following instructions carefully. Gandhiji hailed from Kathiwad where men wear dhoti and while walking they place the right foot first in a half circle movement and their dhoti moves in the same direction, he told me. Finally, Richard got it right.”
Richard asked her how many times she read Gandhiji’s biography to which Ranade said three to four times. He said he read it108 times, and knew every detail. “He was a perfectionist and that came through in the film that went onto win many awards,” recounts Ranade. He changed some dialogues as suggested by Divakar, she said. A felicitation was arranged for Attenborough. “The last I spoke to him was ten years back when he lost his daughter and granddaughter in the tsunami that hit Thailand in 2004. He was devastated. Later, from 2008, I learnt that he was very ill,” said Ranade.
Ranade recalls how the director was interested in a project aimed at training Gandhian social workers in rural areas.