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No nudes, good news for Padma

We have not heard too much about Salman Rushdie’s glamorous actress wife, Padma Lakshmi, since Kaizad Gustad’s Boom went bust but she has returned to British television screens as the scheming Maharani, Madhuvanthi, in a tale of English derring do called Sharpe’s Challenge. As usual, the role is challenging. “I wear very tight, tiny blouses with lots of midriff on show ' the women of that era were voluptuous yet dainty,” she explains.

Padma has enjoyed shooting the two-part serial opposite Hollywood star Sean Bean in Jaipur. She had not heard of Bean until Salman put on a DVD of The Lord of the Rings in which the British actor, now 47, plays the warrior Boromir.

Padma had a no-nudity clause written into her contract. “I don’t like nudity but I’m ok with kissing and Sean made it an enjoyable experience,” reveals the Chennai-born 35-year-old. “We had a passionate kiss in one scene and I have to say Sean is a very good kisser.”

The story sounds slightly like a rip off of M.M. Kaye’s The Far Pavilions. Set in Napoleonic times, brave British soldier Major Richard Sharpe (Bean) is sent to rescue his close friend, Sgt Harper, who has been kidnapped by the Maharani’s men, one of whom, Colonel William Todd, is a renegade East India company officer. He is played by Aamir’s old friend and yours, Toby Stephens, who has, happily, risen from The Rising. Madhuvanthi threatens to execute the daughter of General Burroughs, the local British commander, whom she has also taken hostage.

Madhuvanthi is described as a “very dangerous woman” by Bean but, naturally, being the ‘eshtaar’ of the movie, he has his wicked way with the wicked woman.

Padma points out: “She is a juicy, strong character who started out as the king’s favourite courtesan (this also happened in Kaye’s novel). After his death, she clawed her way to power. She is powerful but all her power is seated in her sexuality.”

Last Saturday’s Daily Express colour magazine ran a lovely picture of Sean Bean and Padma Lakshmi ' “Sharpe shooter: Sean Bean has Salman Rushdie’s wife in his sights.”

Flintoff on song

Stand-in England skipper Andrew Flintoff is going to be on song but, for once, there is nothing for bowlers from India or any other country to worry about.

The man considered to be the best all rounder in the world is to take his first tentative steps into show business by joining singer Elton John for a charity duet in London’s Battersea Park on May 9.

After England had squared the Test series against India by winning in Mumbai, it was revealed that Flintoff had played Elton’s Rocket Man in his dressing room to psyche up his team.

Perhaps Rahul Dravid, too, was so mesmerised by its magic that he put England in to bat after winning the toss for what other explanation can there be for his daft decision'

“I’m really looking forward to Elton performing Rocket Man which became such a special part of last summer’s Ashes success,” says Big Freddie.

And, with characteristic modesty, he adds: “As for appearing with the great man, at the moment it seems far more daunting than bowling to Ricky Ponting or facing Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.”

Elton, a cricket lover, enthuses: “Andrew puts bums on seats, makes the game as exciting as it can be. The feeling of anticipation when he comes in to bowl or bat is electric.”

The fund-raising event, An Evening with Elton, will also include a question and answer session with Flintoff.

I shall invest in a ticket if only to ask Flintoff: “So what have you gifted Rahul in return'”

Bookworm

One of my favourite watering holes in London is Waterstone’s, the six-storey bookshop in Piccadilly with its agreeable bar on the top floor. If your friends are late, you can always check out the “three for two” offers on the ground floor.

During my schooldays in London, I also used to love wandering through Foyle’s, in Charing Cross Road, especially with my father, whom I used to humour by buying weighty volumes on nuclear physics which I never read.

Americans are better at adding cafes to bookshops, where it is possible to have a coffee after buying a pile of novels or just browsing through the latest New York Review of Books. It is a concept we should introduce in India, which is about to embrace a book revolution (I hope).

I noticed the Oxford Bookshop in Mumbai has a caf' which is a nice place to meet ' I would be happy to make a donation when it decides to include a lavatory. Were this to happen in London, health inspectors would probably shut down the place and impose a heavy fine.

At the Strand Bookshop, I got carried away and bought the four-volume doorstopper, Enduring Legacy: Parsis of the 20th century, edited by Nawaz B. Mody, to be air parcelled to London. (Economist Lord Meghnad Desai, who has been staying with wife Kishwar at the CCI, intends following my example).

There is, for once, a method in my madness for I have come to the conclusion that Parsis are God’s gift to Parsis and to Bombay (not Mumbai) ' Indians in the UK, also disproportionately small in number, should, similarly, make a disproportionately big contribution to life in Britain.

Inspiring plagiarism: Arundhati Roy

Copy cat

There is huge pressure these days on young Indian women, not only to do well in exams, but also, like Arundhati Roy, to write prize-winning novels.

How else to explain the controversy surrounding Kaavya Vishwanathan, the 19-year-old Harvard “chick lit”, whose debut novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life ' her publisher, Little Brown has paid her '280,000 for a two-book deal ' may not be published in Britain because of a plagiarism row'

Vishwanathan, who was born in India and spent her childhood years in Scotland, has allegedly copied important bits from two works by fellow New Jersey author, Megan McCafferty.

Vishwanathan’s apology ' “I wasn’t aware of how much I may have internalised Ms McCafferty’s words” ' are less than convincing.

Stripped of the literary glamour, she seems to have, sadly, blown her chances of becoming a professional activist.

Cover story: One Night Stand

Tittle tattle

Though she happens to be my niece, I can say that the Mumbai-based artist, Sohini, who is painting a provocative series, India’s Hidden Sexuality, is keen to do book covers. In fact, British publishers are exceedingly keen to discover book cover illustrators in India.

It just strikes me that her current work in progress, One Night Stand, would be appropriate for the “kiss and tell” accounts that surface practically every week in the British media. In fact, young women sleep with celebrities so that they can sell their (“my night of wild sex”) stories to the tabloids.

The latest affair is that between deputy prime minister John Prescott, 67, and his secretary, Tracey Temple, 43. Prescott seems as unlikely a Lothario as John Major, the former prime minister who was considered a “grey man” until his colleague and former Tory minister, Edwina Currie, revealed he could “take down a brief as well as the next politician”.

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