The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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SPLIT WIDE OPEN: Poster of Frost Nixon

Frost Nixon melts theatre critics

My message to Indian visitors to London, between 500,000 and 600,000 of whom visit these shores every year and spend a fortune in Oxford Street — if there is one play you see, make sure it’s Frost Nixon.

It is based on the series of interviews David Frost did in 1977 with disgraced president Richard Nixon after he had been forced out of the Oval Office over the Watergate disclosures.

This, I believe, is the theatre of the future: taking contemporary events and turning them into drama. The British are developing a particular expertise in this genre but it is one which would be particularly suited to India.

Everything from the inquiry into the 1984 Delhi riots to the investigation into Rajiv’s killing and Sourav’s ouster — or even whether Ash is going to marry Abhishek — ought to provide material for today’s Indian playwrights.

There is nothing quite like British theatre at its best — and Frost Nixon is fantastic.

Today, Sir David Frost, who has been hired by Al Jazeera to lend credibility to the Arab channel’s new English language service, is a slightly devalued currency. He has been accused of being rather too gentle with the great and good, possibly because he is himself now a member of the British establishment.

Back in 1977, he paid Nixon $600,000 and invested $2 million in interviewing the fallen US president and securing an admission of guilt and regret from him. It would be even more difficult today securing a mea culpa from Donald Rumsfeld.

Frost Nixon — with the interviewer and president played by excellent British and American actors, Michael Sheen and Frank Langella, respectively — has been on the Donmar Theatre but transferred to the Gielgud last week.

The first one on stage, I was happy to note, was a friend, Amarjit Deu, a Punjabi boy transformed here into one Manolo Sanchez, Nixon’s man Friday. In the past, Amarjit has played Udham Singh, the man who shot Sir Michael ’Dwyer in London in 1940 as revenge for the 1919 Amritsar Massacre and was subsequently hanged for the assassination.

It would certainly be worthwhile doing a play about the circumstances surrounding the return of his remains to India in 1974. The casket was received at Delhi airport by Shankar Dayal Sharma, the Congress party president, and Zail Singh, chief minister of Punjab. Indira Gandhi also laid a wreath.

Sir David Frost has, incidentally, seen himself portrayed on stage.

“I wasn’t wild about the idea when I read the first draft,” he admitted afterwards. “But I think it’s brilliantly written, brilliantly directed and brilliantly acted. My overall reaction is that this is as exciting a night as you are likely to get in the theatre this year.”

A play, Ash Abhishek, with Ash and Abhishek, in the audience would be quite something.

Class act: Daniel Craig

On a roll

It was three in the morning when we Bond fans came out of the Odeon in Leicester Square after seeing Casino Royale, which has taken $100 million to make and which is spending the same amount on hype.

With this kind of money, even Don can be made to look like a reasonable movie.

Some critics have declared Daniel Craig, who stars as the new 007, as the best Bond ever. I go along with the general line that Craig, who exudes a believable roughness and menace, is the best Bond since Sean Connery.

Shame then about the story which I found hard to follow. A series of thrilling action sequences, loosely stitched together, does not a great movie make. Ian Fleming’s original has been updated so that our Bond is a dab hand at using mobile telephones and laptops and prone to sending emails to his boss, M. I am all for equality but when we see Judie Dench playing M, we think this is Judie Dench playing M.

Casino Royale, published in 1953 and first filmed in 1967 as a spoof, was Fleming’s first Bond novel and introduced the British agent with “a licence to kill”. It was a mistake, I think, not to shoot it in period. But since I have already spent £52 on tickets, I am a typical victim of hype.

Just before seeing Casino Royale, I bumped into actor Bhasker Patel, who told me he played a “dodgy Pakistani arms dealer” in Golden Eye, the 1995 Bond movie, “but it was cut out”. But he saw himself in the DVD version which includes a section on the bits which were left out.

“The director, Martin Campbell, told me it was a mistake to make that cut,” said Bhasker.

Happily, a well known Indian actor in London, Paul Bhattacharya, has a cameo role in Casino Royale as a doctor (what else') who saves Bond.

SISTER ACT: Pinky Lilani’s first awards ceremony, Women of the Future

Brave heart

Miss Cherie Booth, Queen’s Counsel, who also doubles up as Mrs Tony Blair, certainly does her bit for Indians. When Pinky Lilani, formerly of Calcutta, held her first awards ceremony last week to recognise “Women of the Future”, Cherie was chief guest.

She came to my table (to talk to someone else) and, during a brief chat, revealed that her husband had stopped wearing his Nehru jacket — he had done so in India — “because the British media attacked him for it”.

That’s sad. Blair’s Nehru jacket policy was one of the things he did get right.

Tomorrow, Cherie will be chief guest at another Indian function at which the Asian of the Year will be named. One trusts she will be brave enough to wear one of her saris.

IN BLACK & WHITE: London’s evening newspapers (top) and Shaheen Khan

News bytes

Indian youths in London have got new jobs: standing outside tube stations and handing out free copies of two new evening papers, London Lite (published by the Evening Standard group) and theLondonpaper, which comes out from Rupert Murdoch’s stable.

Indians make up a big part of London’s population but you would not know it reading any of these papers.

Perhaps they ought to do a story on actress Shaheen Khan (who played the aloo gobi mother figure in Bend It Like Beckham), the only Muslim woman who goes horse riding for pleasure and is about to star in a play on the mathematician Srinavasa Ramanujan.

Tittle tattle

Even though he was ashamed of his Indian origins, in the encyclopaedia of Parsi achievement there is another name to add — Freddie Mercury, the late lead singer of the rock band, Queen.

After exhaustive research, the Official UK Charts Company has just announced that Queen’s Greatest Hits is Britain’s best selling album of all time with sales of 5.4 million copies — comfortably ahead of the 4.8 million registered by The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

It was only after his death in 1991 that the world really came to know that Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on September 5, 1946, in Zanzibar to Bomi and Jer Bulsara and that he grew up in Bombay. Mercury, who wrote the majority of Queen’s best loved songs including Bohemian Rhapsody, was more open about his homosexuality.

Now considered by many to be the second greatest band in music history, Queen have inspired the successful musical, We Will Rock You.

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