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Posted at 11:00 PM ET, 08/02/2011

Natwar Gandhi plays Mahatma Gandhi, in District finance chief’s acting debut


Natwar Gandhi as Mahatma Gandhi, right, with fellow actor Krish Murti, in "A Tryst With Destiny." (Sushil Rattan (Ceasar Productions))

Natwar Gandhi never imagined when he offered to read a friend’s new play that it would turn into an audition.

But as the District’s chief financial officer shared his thoughts about “A Tryst with Destiny” — a drama about the leaders of the Indian independence movement and the country’s eventual partition — playwright Amita Jha kept staring at him. He was perfect, she decided, for the lead role: As Mahatma Gandhi.

“The more I looked at him, I thought, ‘gosh, he could just fit right in,’” she told us. “All I needed to do is put a mustache on him and he was ready to go!”


Natwar Gandhi in 2008. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

So it happened that Gandhi will be playing Gandhi (no relation), in a community theater production next week marking India and Pakistan’s Independence Day. “A Tryst with Destiny” will be performed Aug. 13 and 14 at the JCC of Greater Washington in Rockville. Along with other amateur actors, the city’s top bean-counter has been rehearsing the past three months and memorizing two hours worth of lines.

“That is the most difficult part,” Gandhi told us. “I now have a renewed respect for those who act.”

Gandhi laughs off the notion of a resemblence. (“I am bald! But I’m not as skinny as he is. I should fast for 21 days as he did, and live in jail.”) But the part-time poet and devotee of local theater has spent his life absorbed in reading about the non-violence crusader, a native of his own home province, Gujarat.

“When you see what is happening today in the Middle East, what happened in eastern Europe, what happened in this country in the south — everywhere you see the imprint of Gandhi.”

Any lessons from that Gandhi for this Gandhi’s work in city government? He thought for a second.

“Gandhi was very good at conflict resolution,” he said. “You have to understand, what does the other person want, why is he or she opposed to a given idea.” The CFO makes a point of having breakfast and lunch meetings almost every day with a different constituency, he said. “I’m always talking and learning, what is their perspective on a given issue.”

So — how is he as an actor? His producer, Manoj Singh, is pleased. “It’s not easy to play an iconic leader, because people compare and want you to be quite similar to the original,” he said. “He’s doing quite well. . . He’s a public figure so he has confidence on stage.”

Ready to quit the day job for life on stage? Gandhi laughed. “Let’s see what the reviews look like.”

By  |  11:00 PM ET, 08/02/2011

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