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'Richard Attenborough was unassuming, he never lost his temper'

August 25, 2014 17:50 IST

Sheila Sim and Richard AttenboroughVeteran theatre personality Dolly Thakore, who made her film debut as a casting director with Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, kept in touch with him long after work on the multiple award-winning biopic was over.

Distraught upon hearing the unfortunate news, the Indian thespian revisits her long and 'wonderful' association with Sir Richard Attenborough.

I feel as if I have lost one of my favourite family members.

The first time I worked with Richard was 35 years ago (work on Gandhi started in 1979). He kept in touch with some of us who had worked with him on the film.

I visited him each time time I went to London, he was very welcoming. He was one of those people with whom you could share just about anything. He was very unassuming; not intimidating at all.

The last time I met him was probably in 2006.

He lived in Richmond when Quasar (Dolly's son) was co-directing A Midsummer Night's Dream in London and I was very keen on paying Richard a visit since he had seen Quasar only once, when he was a year old.

Richard was in top form at the time even though age had caught up with him.

He was later shifted to a senior citizen home along with his wife Sheila Sim, I had the address of the place because we sent him flowers on his birthday every year. 

Terry Clegg (Terrence A Clegg), our production manager on Gandhi, would send us a letter every month telling us about Richard's well being, he would visit Richard at the home every month and write to us about how Richard remembered people.

I hadn't heard from Terry for the last three months. When I wrote to him, asking why he hadn't written to us in those months, I did not receive any response from him so I don't even know if Terry is still there because he was almost 80 years old himself.

Richard gave me a new career path -- Gandhi was my first film and I learnt every single thing on the job -- how to scout for actors, how to characterise.

Every single actor for Gandhi was selected by me but the final decision rested with the director but Richard didn't reject anybody.

I had a wonderful working relationship with him.

He gave me the freedom to travel anywhere in India -- where I thought I would find a particular actor -- I visited Trivandrum (Thirvanthapuram), Madras (Chennai), Calcutta (Kolkata), Bangalore (Bengaluru) but budget was nerve a constraint while working with Richard.

Even when we were based in our Delhi head office and I needed to contact actors like Amrish Puri or Om Puri for various parts in the film, I just had to inform my production office and they would arrange for air tickets, cabs or taxis -- Richard was very encouraging and very cooperative.

This was a luxury I haven't enjoyed with any other units I worked with later on.

I remember meeting Richard for the first time in May 1979 when Rani Dube, the coproducer on the film, brought him to my place.

I was breastfeeding Quasar at the time.

He came at two in the afternoon. I did not have any furniture at that time so he had to sit on one of the two gaddas (mattresses) on the floor.

He sat with us till the time Alyque (Padamsee, Dolly's then usband who played Jinnah in the film) arrived.

As soon as he saw Alyque, he said he'd found his Jinnah.

I had a collage of theatre photographs on my wall, seeing he asked me if I could be his casting director for the Indian roles.

Susie Figgis cast all the Hollywood actors and I took care of all the 498 Indian characters.

When Richard was on the sets with his actors, he was very patient, I never saw him lose his temper.

Dolly ThakoreHe had pet names for everyone on the sets -- from the spot boy to the cinematographer -- he called everybody darling, puppet, angel. Perhaps he couldn't remember names that well.

Shama Habibullah, Govind Nihlani, Rohini Hattangady and I stayed at the Ashoka Hotel for six months with the entire English cast and the other crew was put up at Janpath hotel.

Whenever Richard was not shooting, he would hold discussions with the actors, cameramen and the production crew, he was always in one meeting or another, there was never a moment when he was free with nothing to do.

On two occasions, he went to have dinner with Indira Gandhi. He was very busy.

 I had taken my son Quasar along with me while we were shooting in Delhi, I had put him in a play school.

We were given a car and a driver for the kids to go to school and come back while we were working.

Even though Richard was 90, it's hard to believe that he's gone.

His death has come as quite the shock; there is a vacuum in my heart because he was a very important part of my life and my career.

I shared a great deal of my emotional and professional life with him.

Image: Richard Attenborough with wife Sheila Sim. Photograph: Reuters/Pool/Lewis Whyld/WPA/PA Wire. Inset: Dolly Thakore

Patcy N in Mumbai
 

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