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Time to begin a new innings...

MADHUR TANKHA speaks to Ben Nealon who essayed the role of Lt. Smith in the Oscar-nominated "Lagaan".



Ben Nealon: Recreating the magic of "Lagaan". Photo: S. Arneja.

HE MADE a tryst with history when he got the chance of a lifetime by bagging the role of Lt. Smith in "Lagaan". British actor, Ben Nealon's love affair with India is continuing as he decided to celebrate his 34th birthday at New Delhi's Poorva Dilli Khel Parishad by being a member of Nomades, which included English amateur cricketers to play the gentleman's game against Lagaan XI, which comprised former Indian and local cricketers.

Ben says he was elated at the prospect of shooting for "Lagaan" in the nondescript place of Bhuj in Gujarat for three months. His cricketing abilities proved handy as the film's director, Ashutosh Gowariker, asked him to bat and bowl for three overs at London's Recreation Ground. That was not all. He was auditioned in Hindi, a language completely alien to him.

Working with the `Lagaan' team was an exhilarating experience for this actor, whose serial, "Soldier Soldier" ran for four years on the British television. Ben says, "I got an important role to play as I was the right hand man of the tyrannical Captain Russell, played by Paul Blackthrone. As I was in love with Russell's sister, Elizabeth, I was extremely jealous of Aamir Khan's character of Bhuvan. I opened the batting and spearheaded the bowling attack. My ambition was to get Bhuvan out."

On the experience, Ben says, "We were treated at par with rest of the crew. Nobody had a bigger room. It was a big opportunity to see another culture from such a close range. Working with the Indian crew made us over come our differences."

Ben has come to India on his own along with London's amateur cricketers. He is sad that the English captain in "Lagaan", Paul Blackthorne couldn't come because his serial was being shot in the U.S. He says, "We are trying to get seven more members, who acted in Ashutosh Gowarikar's film. We tried in vain to get sponsors from England. Now we are hopeful that some large-hearted Indian firm will foot the bill."

Ben Nealon isn't sitting idle as he is trying his level best to capitalise on the fact that he acted in an Oscar-nominated film. He is thoroughly disappointed that the American film jury didn't give the coveted award to "Lagaan" but to "No Man's Land" as cricket is an unknown game in the U.S.

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