Celebrated actor Sir Ben Kingsley takes on the role of a Sikh driving instructor in New York named Darwan in the forthcoming film Learning to Drive:
…Wendy has to get a license. When she was married, her husband always drove the car if they went anywhere. Forcing herself to come out of hiding, she signs up for driving lessons.
Her instructor (Darwan) is a Sikh, a political refugee from India. He tries to be patient with his student, who is coming apart at the seams before his eyes. Meanwhile, Darwan is contemplating an arranged marriage to a woman he has never met.
Kingsley is known to many for his Oscar-winning performance in the film Gandhi (1982).
I am generally apprehensive about “Sikh-face” — when a non-Sikh takes on the appearance of a Sikh to play a role — particularly as it has been expressed in Indian cinema (where Sikh characters, played by non-Sikhs, are often the object of ridicule, mockery, and/or reduced to broad stereotypes). While it is disappointing that a Sikh was not cast to play a Sikh in this film, one can only reserve judgement regarding how Kingsley plays the Sikh character, and how this character is treated by the film. Given the plot summary and the actors cast in the film, one might also expect that Learning to Drive will offer a more thoughtful portrait of the Sikh character that has often been missing in most western and Bollywood portrayals.
One may also recall that a recent blockbuster film earlier this summer, Star Trek: Into Darkness, “whitewashed” the antagonist Khan Noonien Singh, stripping the character of his noted Sikh heritage. In this context, it is especially notable — particularly in the west — that a film incorporates a Sikh protagonist, offering more intrigue as we await the October, 2014, release of Learning to Drive.
Read more at The Daily Mail.