| INDIA CONNECT: Jeffery Kissoon (in blue) as Julius Caesar. Picture by Kwame Lestrade
Julius Caesar’s African campaign
Seeing the excellent Trinidad-born actor Jeffery Kissoon play Julius Caesar last week made me wish this gripping production of my favourite Shakespeare play had been set, not in Africa, but in India.
Kissoon came to Britain from the Caribbean island when he was a small boy. I assume his family, like that of so many in Trinidad, originated in India.
There is something about Kissoon’s at times inscrutable face that recalled the late Narasimha Rao.
This all black cast is directed by Gregory Doran — he is replacing Michael Boyd as artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) later this year. With the threatened necklace burnings with rubber tyres, the play vividly evokes the extreme violence of South Africa.
It is only a few days ago that police shot dead 34 men at Lonmin platinum mine in South Africa. The killings recalled the notorious Sharpeville massacre of 1960 when apartheid police shot dead 69 black protestors in a Transvaal township. There is also the killing of Annie Dewani during her honeymoon in 2010, most probably by a local gangster.
Given this level of violence, it makes sense to set Julius Caesar in Africa. According to the RSC, this transposition reflects the fact that “Shakespeare is no longer English property”.
It is said that in prison Nelson Mandela had access to Shakespeare plays but the book covers had Diwali cards pasted on them to fool the guards — “Hindu Gods protecting Shakespeare,” someone has quipped.
Yet, Julius Caesar would be perfect if adapted for India with conspirators in desi garb plotting against their beloved leader. (“Yond Cassius Babu has a lean and hungry look,/ He sketches too much; such cartoonists are dangerous.”)
| NEWS MAKER: Izbicki in front of the old The Daily Telegraph building
Many pubs are closing these days because of the recession but one that continues to flourish is the historic Ye Olde Chesire Cheese on Fleet Street, once the home of Britain’s national newspapers. To journalists, especially at The Daily Telegraph when it was located at 135, Fleet Street, the establishment was always known as “the Cheese”.
This was the venue chosen recently by John Izbicki, long time education editor of The Daily Telegraph, when he invited friends and former colleagues to a party to celebrate the publication of his memoirs, Life Between the Lines (Umbria Press; £12.95).
Having been born Horst/Horstchen Izbicki into a Jewish family in Germany, John arrived in Britain with his parents when he was only eight — the name “John” was acquired shortly afterwards.
Though John showed talent as an actor, he became a journalist and joined The Daily Telegraph on Fleet Street in 1967 at the age of 36 and remained there until 1989. By and by, he became the doyen of education correspondents — which is how I remember John as a senior colleague when 135, Fleet Street also became my home.
Reading his book, I now realise there is so much I didn’t know about him, especially about his family’s horrific experiences in Nazi Germany where he lost family members in the Holocaust.
At the patrician Telegraph, when he asked for a byline to replace “by Daily Telegraph Reporter”, he was told, “Well, you see Izbicki if we were to give you a byline, we’d have so many readers writing in to ask us why we were employing so many — er — foreigners...”
He was given the fictional English name, “John Howard”, until eventually the Telegraph relented and allowed him to find fame as John Izbicki.
One entertaining anecdote concerns an earlier period when John worked in Paris as a correspondent for the Kemsley group of mainly regional British newspapers. Before leaving for Paris, he visited the group’s headquarters at 200 Gray’s Inn Road to be briefed over lunch by “my immediate boss and line manager, Kemsley’s overall foreign editor, Ian Fleming”.
Later, John was summoned back to London convinced his boss was not satisfied with his output. But all Fleming wanted to do was to increase his salary substantially as a reward for his fine scoops.
“While I was speaking, Ian Fleming was doodling on his blotter,” recalls John. “He had not yet become the famous author, creator of James Bond...”
It was a pleasant surprise to see the choreographer Tanusree Shankar wandering the grounds of the Indian Gymkhana Club in London last Sunday.
This was where the Indian High Commission was holding its annual Independence Day picnic, attended by more than 3,000 members of the community, after the high commissioner, Jaimini Bhagwati, had presided over a flag hoisting ceremony.
The cultural programme had started with three of Tanusree’s dancers from Calcutta — Priyadarshini Chatterjee, Aritri Kundu and Kunal Kanti Majumdar — dancing to Bande Mataram.
The maximum applause came when Jaimini quoted Tagore — “Where the mind is without fear” — as an exhortation not to be “afflicted by sectarian thoughts”.
Incidentally, the queue for the complimentary lamb curry and rice was relatively short. That for the Gujarati vegetarian food was very long. This explains why Narendra Modi has a big following in London, where BJP fundraisers are apparently much more successful in raising funds than their overseas Congress counterparts.
Will “back to the future” work for Dallas?
The American supersoap, which once regaled audiences all over the world, is returning to British screens on September 5 after a 20-year-break.
Set in “Southfork Ranch” in oil rich Texas, its villain was J.R. Ewing, played by Larry Hagman, while his wife with the quivering lip, Sue Ellen, was played by Linda Gray. JR’s younger brother, Bobby, was played by Patrick Duffy.
The three have been in London for a launch party.
Two decades ago, Dallas reflected the power of Texas oil wealth. But it is less certain whether the new series on the minority Channel 5 will attract audiences — apart from anything else Hagman is now 80, Duffy, 63, and Gray, 71.
It is like remaking Sholay with Veeru and Jaidev in their seventies.
The National Trust for Scotland is sending out an enticing message to Indian film companies: “Come and shoot in Scotland.”
The invitation is from Anna Preuss, who was appointed the trust’s film officer five months ago.
“We have a rich choice of castles and historic homes as well as wilderness landscapes,” she tells me.
Batman: The Dark Knight Rises has ariel shots of Mar Lodge, a trust property set in the Cairngorms. And a trailer of the new James Bond film, Skyfall, shows Daniel Craig as James Bond and Dame Judi Dench as M “gazing across the majestic Highland wilderness”.
There is also talk of the Colombian singer Shakira shooting a Bollywood film, Desire, directed by Enamul Karim Nirjhar, a Bangladeshi, in Scotland.
The Muslim comedienne Shazia Mirza recently returned home to Britain after telling her brand of risqué jokes in Pune, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai.
“I always find the more ‘conservative’ an audience the more fun and filth they like — Indian audiences are ready for raunchier material next time.”
Shazia’s opening gag, which she used post 9/11, is still her best. She would introduce herself with a straight face: “My name’s Shazia Mirza — at least, that’s what it says on my pilot’s licence.”