Persis Khambatta Biography
Persis Khambatta was an Indian model-turned-actor whose journey from being a model to a famous Hollywood actor has been inspirational and motivating. Khambatta had just stepped into her teens when she was offered an advertisement for a soap brand. Prior to this, she had no experience whatsoever. Interestingly, Khambatta did not toil hard to get into modelling unlike other girls. In fact, modelling happened to her unexpectedly. Her photos clicked by a professional photographer sealed her fate in modelling. She soon bagged the coveted Femina Miss India title and represented her country at the Miss Universe pageant. Khambatta’s modelling paved way to a career in acting. Though she started as a Bollywood actor, the unprofessionalism that existed in the Hindi film industry at that time, led her to take up projects in Hollywood. Her big breakthrough came with her bald look in ‘Star Trek’ film. It helped her gain global prominence and distinction. Though Khambatta despised the lack of civic sense and professionalism of the Indian citizens in general, she returned to Mumbai as she loved the city. After coming back, she penned the book ‘Pride of Nation’, writing about former Miss India’s and other beauty pageants.
- Persis Khambatta was born on October 2, 1948, in Mumbai, India in a middle class Parsi family. Her father left the family when she was two. It was her mother who single-handedly raised her.
- Her venture into films and television wasn’t a well thought of or a planned move. In fact, she was casually shot by a well-known photographer. However, the pictures came out brilliantly and were used for a successful campaign of a soap brand.
- Soon after the soap brand campaign, she started getting calls from advertising and modelling agency. It seemed as if she was destined to take the road to glamour. Her pictures had done all the talking.
- Persis Khambatta’s modelling career started as early as when she was 13. She first appeared for the soap brand Rexona. The poster girl of the brand, Khambatta’s striking beauty and photogenic face set the stage for her modelling career s.
- By the age of 17, she was already ruling the ramp and the advertisements. She won the coveted title of Femina Miss India and Miss Photogenic award.
- In 1965, Persis Khambatta represented the country in the Miss Universe pageant. She was the second Femina Miss India and overall the third Indian woman to participate in the Miss Universe. She modelled for multinational companies such as Revlon, Garden Vareli, Air India and so on.
- After her international exposure, Persis Khambatta modelled both in India and abroad. In 1967, she made her Bollywood debut in the avant-garde film ‘Bambai Raat Ki Bahon Mein’ or ‘Bombay By Night’ directed by K.A. Abbas. In it, she played a cabaret singer Lily
- Bollywood’s lack of professionalism led her to move to London, where she pursued her modelling career on a full throttle. After modelling in London, she left for United States where her career as a Hollywood star kickstarted.
- In 1975, Khambatta bagged her first international film ‘The Wilby Conspiracy’ starring Michael Caine and Sidney Poitier. Almost simultaneously, she found her second role in ‘Conduct Unbecoming’ with Richard Attenborough, Michael York and Trevor Howard.
- In 1979, Khambatta bagged the most significant role of her career. She starred as a bald Deltan navigator, Lieutenant Ilia, in ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’. She shaved her head completely for the film.
- ‘Star Trek’ brought her a wider audience and greater global recognition and fame. Though originally intended to create a television series, the project was converted into a film instead.
- In 1980, Khambatta became the first Indian citizen to present an Academy Award. Same year, she was nominated for Saturn Award for Best Actress for her role in ‘Star Trek’.
- Following her big debut in ‘Star Trek’, Khambatta featured in a number of films including ‘Nighthawks’ in 1981 alongside Sylvester Stallone. The 1982 film ‘Megaforce’ and 1983 film ‘Warrior of the Lost World’ were both science fiction films. In 1988, she featured in ‘Phoenix the Warrior’ and also bagged a few guest roles in television series.
- After gaining fame and recognition, Persis Khambatta used her status to promote ethnic minority actors in Hollywood. Despite having them on board, the film industry relied on white men who donned the roles in dark make-up. She urged the industry to give roles to actors of ethnic origin.
- In 1985, she returned to Mumbai temporarily. During this time, she appeared in the Hindi television series, ‘Shingora’ opposite Aditya Pancholi and Marc Zuber. Later, Khambatta left for Hollywood where she received guest roles in various television series including ‘Mike Hammer’ and ‘MacGyver’.
- In the early 1990s, Kshe moved back to Bombay. Modelling then wasn’t a respected profession and models were looked down upon not just by men but women as well. Hardcore feminist believed that modelling was basically a platform to flaunt women as sex objects. To oppose the view and show the country that models had much more than just figure, beauty and body, she laboriously worked on her only book ‘Pride of India’.
- Published as a coffee table book, ‘Pride of India’ featured several former Miss India winners and other stunningly attractive Indian women who had participated in international beauty contests.
- Her book also featured Mother Teresa. Though Mother Teresa wasn’t a model or a beauty pageant, Persis Khambatta believed that she was an epitome of beauty. Khambatta who was inspired by Mother Teresa dedicated the book to her and offered part of the royalties to the Missionaries of Charity.
- Khambatta’s final performance on screen before she bid adieu to acting was for the pilot episode of the 1993 series, ‘Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman’. She served as the Chair of the Congress of Nations.
- The magnum opus of Khambatta’s career came in 1975 when she bagged a lead role as Lieutenant Ilia, an alien navigator of the starship USS Enterprise in the Hollywood flick ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’. Though Khambatta had done a couple of Hollywood flicks by then, ‘Star Trek’ made her an indomitable figure of the acting world. She created cinematic history by appearing as the first ever bald film heroine ever. ‘Star Trek’ was hugely successful and became the centrepiece of Khambatta’s filmography.
- Persis Khambatta married Hollywood actor, Cliff Taylor, in June 1981. The two had met just weeks before their marriage. However, the marriage did not work for long and ended two months later as they filed for divorce. She then married Sandy Naren. They lived in Des Moines.
- In the early 1980s, she was seriously injured in a car crash in Germany and had a heart bypass surgery.
- In 1998, Persis Khambatta was taken to the Marine Hospital in Bombay, after she complained of chest pain. She died of a massive heart attack on August 18, 1998. She was only 49 then. Her funeral was held in Mumbai the following day.
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