|ROLE PLAY: Southall boy Ricky Sekhon (down) plays Osama bin Laden
Zero Dark Thirty: The hunt to get Ricky Sekhon
Ricky Sekhon, a young Punjabi actor from Southall, has been picked to play Osama bin Laden in Kathryn Bigelow’s much anti-cipated movie about the hunt to get the Al Qaeda leader who masterminded 9/11.
The film, provisionally called Zero Dark Thirty, is due for release in December after the US presidential election.
Sekhon is 6ft 4in tall, not so different from Osama’s height of between 6ft 4in and 6ft 6in.
Sekhon is only 29, much younger than the 54 years that Osama was when he was located and shot by US navy SEALs (Sea, Air and Land) in Abbottabad in Pakistan on May 2 last year.
After filming his part over three weeks in Jordan, Sekhon is back in the UK, where he lives with his Swedish fashion photographer girlfriend, Emma Noré. His day job is running a property company, Ashville Homes, with his father.
Does playing Osama mean he is typecast for ever as a terrorist or will the publicity prove to be a blessing?
It’s the latter, I am told by another British Indian actor, Bhasker Patel, who acted with Sekhon in a comedy film, The Infidel, in which the latter had a small part.
“He is a lovely chap and very friendly and funny,” says Bhasker, who does not think playing Osama will count against Sekhon. “But it depends on how brilliantly you have performed.”
The previous film directed by Kathryn Bigelow was the Iraq war thriller, The Hurt Locker, which won six Oscars, including Best Director, a first for a woman, in 2010.
It has been alleged that President Obama gave Bigelow exceptional access to secret government information on how Osama was tracked down because he felt the film would help his re-election prospects. Part of Zero Dark Thirty has been filmed in Chandigarh with streets mocked up to resemble Pakistan.
The Daily Mail’s show business columnist Baz Bamigboye revealed how Sekhon “did extensive research for his portrayal of bin Laden” and dropped two stone “to be more in line with bin Laden’s 11st 11lb weight.”
Sekhon declined to discuss his role portraying bin Laden and would only admit: “Yeah, I had a part in it, but I can’t talk about it, as I’m on quite a big non-disclosure agreement.”
| Point of view: Shyam Benegal in London.
Shyam Benegal, one of 10 brothers and sisters who all grew up in Hyderabad during the days of the Nizam — “I was number six” — has spoken for the first time about his father, Shridhar B. Benegal, who was a stills photographer.
Perhaps there is a lesson in the way he brought up his children, the subject of his 16mm home movies.
“You guys do what you want to do,” he told his children.
Shyam recalls fondly: “He was quite a liberal person — there was never any kind of injunction against doing this or that. Once a month my father would take the family to see a movie in two cars — and he would take a box.”
The director, now 77, has just acquired new fans in London where Bhumika and Junoon have been screened by the British Film Institute. He has also received an Excellence in Cinema Award from the South Asian Cinema Foundation.
We discuss his current project: “I am doing the story of the Indian Constitution, a 10-part television mini series.”
He realises that audiences take what they see on the screen as the historical truth.
He emphasises the approach he adopted when he made Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero in 2005. “It was very important to me to look at Bose as honestly as I could. I truly enjoyed making the movie — it was a great experience. I loved it.”
His Calcutta critics “who had fought me now show excerpts from the film”.
Congratulations are due to Emmeline Winterbotham, writer and director of the play Baba Shakespeare, which was last week selected from the work of 70 community theatres by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
It will be staged in Stratford-upon-Avon on July 13 as part of the World Shakespeare Festival. Emmeline’s play has been inspired by the 1965 Merchant Ivory classic, Shakespeare Wallah.
|Back to roots:Felicity Kendel with Arwind Singh Mewar
The film Shakespeare Wallah was, in its turn, inspired by Shakespeareana, a travelling theatre company run by British actress Felicity Kendal’s parents, Geoffrey and Laura Kendal. Their other daughter, the late Jennifer Kendal, married the actor Shashi Kapoor and remained behind in India.
Having been brought up India till 17, Felicity decided to emigrate to Britain. But in Felicity’s BBC documentary, Indian Shakespeare Quest, she returned recently to the country of her childhood.
Hers is a very engaging film in which we see her in Calcutta, for example, at the Fairlawn Hotel where she and Jennifer stayed with their parents and where she now catches up with the proprietor, Violet Smith.
“This is your home,” Violet tells Felicity, whose Hindi, incidentally, is remarkably good.
In Udaipur, she meets “Shriji” Arvind Singh Mewar whose wonderful voice convinces me once again he is wasted doing his Maharana thing — he should be on stage, playing King Lear though I know he much prefers Malvolio.
There is a very emotional moment when Felicity tells us that after her father died in England (in 1998), his ashes were scattered in the sea off Mumbai as a tribute to the country that he loved.
Home at home
When it comes to new homes and interiors, England and India could not be more different. The second volume of the coffee table book, 50 Beautiful Houses in India (White Flag Media & Communications; Rs 2,995) illustrates a glittering world in which much use is made of marble floors, for example.
From Pune-based architect Sunil Humane, I Iearn: “When an individual is building a luxury house for himself, he wishes the house to be a statement to project his personality and status in front of society. This enables architects to take their experiments with modern architecture to their logical limits, creating pristine forms, new paradigms in space conceptualisation and organisation, and the use of new technologies.”
In London, at the International Fine Art and Antiques Fair in Olympia, I discover another world where I meet, among others, Mark J. West, an expert on antique and contemporary glass. He stands under a 1935 Murano chandelier (in pic).
He shows me an enormous 1905 red over crystal glass vase (in pic) designed for Val Saint Lambert, Belgian glassmakers who once supplied the royal houses of India.
Perhaps there could be a new harmony for the very rich: putting Western antiques into cutting edge Indian homes.
The love-in between “Mother India” Ash and the Daily Mail continues. The paper, which was lyrical about her Cannes appearance last month, went big when she graced the opening of a hotel in London last week.
“Bringing Bollywood glamour to London,” read its headline. “Aishwarya Rai Bachchan dazzles in traditional Indian dress at Bulgari hotel launch party.”
The occasion also signalled Sabyasachi’s arrival: “The 38-year-old star stepped out in a creation by Sabyasachi Mukherjee which consisted of an elaborate black and gold dupatta covering a dress with a black top half and a flowing embroidered white skirt.”