‘Learning to Drive’ star Sir Ben Kingsley gets behind the wheel

One of the transformative abilities of film is its power to take you into new worlds, and the new comedy-drama “Learning To Drive” shines a welcomed light on the Sikh community in New York City.

The film stars Patricia Clarkson as Wendy, an affluent New York City writer in the midst of an ugly divorce. She wants to finally learn to drive, and she turns to Sikh driving instructor Darwan, played by the inimitable Sir Ben Kingsley. The two are able to learn from each other, with Wendy doling out relationship advice while Darwan guides her on the pavement. In part, the film explores what life is like for a Sikh man living in New York City, where he is racially abused on a daily basis.

“What drew me to [the film] is the man’s decency not in a comfortable environment, but decency in an environment that challenges that tolerance and decency on a daily basis,” Kingsley says.

The Oscar-winning actor says the Sikh community in Queens was excited for the film.

“It’s largely due to their generously and their enthusiasm for this story being told that we were allowed to enter into the temple,” Kingsley says. “I spent quite a lot of time, not off the set, but on the set, with [Sikh adviser] Harpreet Singh Toor, standing, watching the filming in a turban and a matching tie, which is something that we decided to do [for my character]. Very well color-coordinated, if I may say so. And Harpreet would help me with my turban every morning.”

Not surprisingly, many scenes in “Learning to Drive” take place behind the wheel of a car. And Kingsley says the title is the perfect metaphor for the film.

“Learning to drive, learning to find your way, learning to be in control of your destiny, your vehicle, your life, as he says to dear Wendy in that scene outside the car,” he explains. “All those scenes, they just felt true, they just felt right. They would not have worked had we been chatting in a park or strolling through a building or getting into an elevator together. To be seated so closely together in this small vehicle and having to deal with that vehicle and each other was a marvelous acting opportunity.”

The frequently-working actor, who also did the film “Self/less” this year and the Spike miniseries “Tut,” has a role in the upcoming Disney film “The Jungle Book.”

“We were at the D23 convention at Anaheim, [California], and we all saw, with 7,500 people in the audience, a 2-minute preview that [director] Jon Favreau put together. It is absolutely breathtaking. I play Bagheera the panther. … It’s going to be a great event when it opens.”