|Richard Attenborough as General Outram in Shatranj Ke Khilari
Attenborough spent about a week in Calcutta in the summer of 1977 to play General Outram in Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khilari.
Sandip Ray, who was working as a still photographer and assistant director on his father’s film, recalled the time spent with the actor-director as he shuttled between Oberoi Grand where he was put up and Indrapuri Studio where the film was shot.
“He was a big admirer of Baba and his works and very excited when approached for the role. When Baba suggested that he mail him the script, he said: ‘For you, I can read the telephone directory… I don’t need the script’,” said Sandip.
Ray (Jr) also remembered how Attenborough had gone “all out for the role” that was assigned to him by the director he called “Manikda”.
“He carefully researched his role and decided to grow his own moustache and goatee to suit the character. He was a non-smoker but for the role he decided to take up the cigar. It was summer and he had to be in winter clothes and heavy coats. I used to be amazed at how he was managing,” Sandip said.
A special air-conditioned make-up room was arranged for Attenborough in the studio for him to rest in between shots, but the actor chose to “sit outside with us in vest and pyjamas and watch the shoot”.
At the end of Attenborough’s shoot, a farewell dinner was arranged at the Grand. “I showed slides of some of the still photographs that I had taken during the shoot…. He was so satisfied with his role that he told Baba it wouldn’t matter if he did not do anything else after Shatranj Ke Khilari,” said Sandip.
The Ray family and Attenborough kept in touch for many years through “letters” and “he would make it a point to send a card every year wishing us for Christmas and the New Year”, said Sandip about “a delightful man” who was “very affectionate”.