The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Living up to her namesake...

Michael Radford's film version of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Ralph Fiennes, ends with Shylock's daughter Jessica staring into an uncertain future. Jessica was Zuleikha Robinson, who is currently trotting all over town along with Mira Nair to shoot for The Namesake. In this English-Bengali bilingual film, Zuleikha plays Moushumi Mazoomdar, a girl of Bengali origin, born and brought up in the West, whom protagonist Gogol meets and then marries towards the end.

The Namesake team had screen-tested 'some 50 to 60 great South Asian actors' for the role of Moushumi before director Mira chanced upon Zuleikha, who bore an 'uncanny' resemblance to her Bengali girl role.

Zuleikha, which means 'someone beautiful' in Persian, was born of an Indian mother and an English father. 'My grandparents were Indians and they were based in Burma. But they had to leave the country and my mother was born in India,' says the 28-year-old.

'I can identify with Moushumi. She has Indian roots, was born in London and goes to New York like me. She is a very complicated woman and there's so much to do in this role,' smiles Zuleikha, who has 'read and loved' Jhumpa Lahiri's novel from which the film is being adapted.

But she can't relate much to the other characters in the novel who are based in India, because she was too young when her parents moved to London, where she was born. 'My cousins, too, are very traditional,' she continues, also sharing Moushumi's 'cultural confusion'.

Zuleikha studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles before dabbling into theatre for some time. Her debut feature film Time Code happened in 2000, where she starred in a not-so-meaty role alongside Salma Hayek. But the 2004 action drama Hidalgo turned some of the spotlight on her, with Zuleikha playing Jazira, daughter of a sheikh, opposite Viggo Mortensen. And then last year came the dream role ' playing Al Pacino's screen daughter in The Merchant of Venice.

'Oh, Al Pacino is just great! He is such a method actor. He is thinking and asking questions all the time,' Zuleikha gushes. 'I was very lucky to be cast in The Merchant of Venice. You don't usually come across such roles' I met the casting people. They set the table for the director, who just loved me.'

The blockbuster is a period piece retaining Shakespeare's dialogues, but it's much shorter than the original. 'The Merchant of Venice is a very convoluted story. But we tried to focus on the question of acceptance, about accepting different cultures,' she explains, pointing out a parallel with her current engagement.

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