Monday, November 16, 2009

The Day Ben Kingsley Made Me Cry

[I have always liked and respected Ben Kingsley, and I will always remember him for his phenomenal performance in "Gandhi". I suppose almost everyone else who has heard of Kingsley thinks like I do. It's been more than 25 years since "Gandhi" came out in the moviehouse; yes, it's been a long time. I wrote this when I was in Hong Kong, in August of 2007, while I was sitting by the sidewalk and watching people go by. I am not too sure what circumstances made me suddenly write about Ben Kingsley. More often than not, the truth is a lot lot stranger than fiction ... even stranger than this story....]

Moviehouse somewhere in Manila, 1983. My eyes transfixed on the big screen, marveling at the man playing a revered historical character. To my right, my mother, equally awed. To my left ... was it my sister? Or was it just my mother and I watching? At any rate, the person seated to my left seemed hardly interested.

Then came the scene that etched a lasting impression in my pre-pubescent mind. A frail, bespectacled, shaven man in loin clothes, fronting a large congregation of Indians, confronted by soldiers. His voice rang like a decisive bell in the theatre hall.

"My name is Gandhi. Mohandas K. Gandhi."

Mohandas Gandhi. The great Mahatma Gandhi. Of course, I had heard about this man and his incredible deeds, for I had read his biography long before I saw Richard Attenborough's masterpiece. In my mind, Gandhi's greatness was a given.

What intrigued me more, however, was the competent actor who gave life to Gandhi's character onscreen. I did not mind that the film lasted forever: the actor captivated me the whole time. By the time the credits started rolling, I eagerly waited. The name then appeared in the cast list.

Ben Kingsley.

Ben Kingsley! I have never heard of this actor before, I said to myself. What would he be like in his other films...but wait, he is supposed to be new to the movies. Oh, then maybe he is a theatre actor. I resolved to find out who Kingsley is ...

... but to no avail. Back in those days, it was hard to do research. There was no such thing as the World Wide Web. The school library subscribed only to local periodicals, and no foreign magazines, much more foreign celebrity magazines, were on the shelves. It was a frustrating game of hide and seek, with me playing "It" to minuscule (if at all existent) articles on Ben Kingsley in the showbusiness section of the newspapers.

That is, until the list of nominees for the American Academy Awards came out on a teaser for the awards night on television. Kingsley was a strong contender for the best actor award.

How my young heart lept! I will finally see how Kingsley looks like off-screen. Taking note of the date and time of the awards ceremony, I started to rush to my mother who was preparing dinner at that time.

Halfway down the stairways, I stopped, apprehensive.

I know my mother quite well....


Ever since I started figuring in the honors list in my second year of primary school, my mother slowly but surely imposed a great deal on my study habits.It started with long examinations, then progressed to include even those short subject quizzes. She pored onto my written examinations, and if I did not get a perfect score, I would be lucky if I get just a harsh scolding. Obtaining the results that she wanted, my mother imposed more. Television time was reduced, and admonitions became more and more severe. If I wanted to watch television badly, I had to ask permission from my mother, and be ready for corresponding justifications.


What the heck, I though to myself. Just how often did I ask her permission to see some fancy show show on television? Five? Six? As seldom as thunderstorm on a Good Friday?


"O?" came the response. She was still busy in the kitchen.

"Ma, puwede ba ako manood ng TV sa Linggo? (Ma, can I watch TV this coming Sunday?)" As I was saying this, I walked towards my mother until she was in full view.

My mother was only in her mid-thirties, but already her beautiful face was scarred by years of hard work, bitterness, and an aggressive aspiration to rise above the humdrum middle class lifestyle our family was trapped in.

Without looking at me, my mother asked. "Ano'ng panonoorin mo? (What are you going to watch?)"

I sat by the dinner table. "Ma, naaalala mo yung Gandhi, yung pinanood natin dati? (Ma, do you remember Gandhi, the film we saw recently?)"


"Na-nominate yung actor na Gandhi, si Ben Kingsley. Gusto ko sana siyang mapanood sa Oscars. (Ben Kingsley, the actor who played Gandhi, was nominated. I wish to see him in the Oscars.)"

My mother raised her head and looked at me. "Ows? (Really?)" To which I nodded.

"Sige (Alright)", she said. "Panoorin natin. (Let's watch the program together.)" It seems that my mother was interested in watching Kingsley, too.

And this made me happy. Very happy.


It was Sunday afternoon, at least that is what I remember. I could hardly contain my excitement. This is a delayed telecast of the awards night, and I did know that Kingsley bagged the Best Actor award, but I just had to see him on television. I thought, I will finally get to watch Ben Kingsley who was said to have shaved his head and shed substantial weight to fit in the role of Gandhi. Admirable, my young impressionable self gasped, at the same time frowning on matinee idols who play too safe with their choice of roles.

All these concerns had suddenly turned me into some star-struck fan, and I was half-amused at the thought.

Suddenly, a loud angry voice ripped my reveries apart.

"Halika nga rito! (Will you come here!)"

It was my mother. Oh God. I went to her room extremely worried.

There she was, squatting in front of my schoolbag which she sneaked out of my room, all of my text books and notebooks lying open on the floor. My heart pounded hard.

"Ma?" My voice quivered.

"Ano ito? (What is this?)" Her eyes were ablaze. She was holding a piece of paper right in front of my nose, waving it frantically. I peered tentatively.

My quiz.

My quiz! Was it in Current Events or in Science? My imperfect quiz. My cursed imperfect score written on the right-hand corner of the paper in decisive red ink. I choked.

"Bakit hindi mo ipinapakita ito? (Why aren't you showing this to me?)", my mother demanded.

At that moment, all facilities for verbal self-defense escaped me. For all I knew, I might have actually kept the quiz from her on purpose. A stupid quiz should not come in the way of watching Ben Kingsley. I tried to speak but not even a whimper came out of my throat.

A barrage of words came flying like angry daggers. Accusing, demeaning words stung my ears and eyes. Then came everything else. Books, clotheshangers, paperweights, footwear all hurtled at my direction.

Helplessly I shielded myself from my mother's wrath, tears falling profusely from my eyes. I dashed for the door as my mother was shouting "Lumayas ka! Lumayas ka! (Get out! Get out!)" She ran after me but I had already gotten out of her room. I was too horrified to even think about television at that point.

As my mother was about to slam the door, she bellowed, all of her life's hurt and disappointment lacing every word she uttered.

"Hindi ka manonood ng TV ngayong gabi! (You are not going to watch TV tonight!)"

I sat in the corner of my room, sobbing my heart out.


Many years have passed.

Steven Spielberg shot an ambitious project in black and white. The movie: Schindler's List. The actors: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley.

I went to the moviehouse, wanting to know what made this film controversial, and if it was worth all the hype that was built around it.

Ben Kingsley's role demanded little, but there he was, his performance muted yet effective still. My mind moved back and forth in time. My chest hurt in the process.

No tears were shed this time. Just an indescribable, hollow feeling that will hound me for as long as Kingsley continues to perform onscreen.

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