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Persis Khambatta, 49, dies

August 18: Actress and former Miss India Persis Khambatta passed away at the Marine Hospital here on Tuesday morning after a massive hear...

By: Express News Service |
August 19, 1998

August 18: Actress and former Miss India Persis Khambatta passed away at the Marine Hospital here on Tuesday morning after a massive heart attack. She was 49 years old.

She was admitted into the hospital on Monday night after she complained of chest pain. At around 5 am on Tuesday morning she suffered a fatal heart attack.

Persis started her career at the age of 13 when she became the Rexona Soap girl and in 1965 she won the Miss India crown. At the Miss World contest held in Miami, Persis was offered a role in a Bond film which she rejected as she had promised her mother that she would return right after the contest.Back in India she won the best-newcomer award for her debut film, Bombay Raat Ki Bahon Mein. Complaining of Bollywood’s unprofessionalism, she left for London where she bagged her first international film The Wilby Conspiracy opposite Sidney Poitier and Michael Caine. She later starred in Sir Richard Attenborough’s Conduct Unbecoming.

But it was in 1978 that Persis got the biggest breakachieved by an Indian actress in Hollywood yet. She was selected from thousands of hopefuls by director Robert Wise and producer Gene Rodenberry to play the female lead in Star Trek- The Motion Picture. Playing the alien navigator of the USS Enterprise, Lieutenant Aliea in what was the costliest Hollywood film of its time, Persis appeared on-screen as the world’s first bald heroine. Two decades before Demi Moore and Sigourney Weaver shaved their heads, Persis Khambatta’s bald pate was flashed on posters worldwide alongside Trek icons William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.

She subsequently starred opposite Sylvester Stallone in Night Hawks in 1982, the same year she became the first Indian to present an award at the Oscars. She also did two forgettable sci-fi flicks Warrior of the Lost World and Mega Force. She left Hollywood a few years ago to work on her book on Miss Indias called The Pride of India.

One of the friends who saw her last is vice-consul of Canada, Sanjeev Choudhary with whom she had dinner atthe Taj on Friday. “I first got to know her at a New Year’s Eve Party here last year and we hit off immediately and often went to events together," he said. “On Friday she looked fine and in fact sneaked out of the dinner at 8.30 pm so she could watch herself on the Khushwant Singh show.”

Sanjeev says that she was optimistic about her future. “After Pride of India she was looking forward to another project and was talking to Sony TV about doing a talk show based on her book.”

Farzana and Behram Contractor, with whom she first discussed the concept of her book,told Express Newsline: “We loved the fact that she was so straight forward and candid, she was a real doer and she completed her book all on her own in a year.” Shanti Chopra who did the Derby Fashion show last year with Persis says, “She was one of the most punctual and professional models to deal with. She was hard working, sensitive but vulnerable. She had a great rapport with everyone in the industry.”

Persis had had heart troublebefore and had a by-pass in 1983. Her funeral will take place tomorrow at 7 am at the Tower of Silence. She is survived by her mother Jeroo, brother Dinish, sister-in-law Marina, and niece and nephew Diana and Carl.

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