Obituary: Persis Khambatta

PERSIS KHAMBATTA, the former Miss India and international model, created cinematic history by appearing in 1979 as the first bald film heroine, in Star Trek: the Motion Picture, the hugely successful Hollywood science fiction film.

She was selected from among thousands of aspirants to play Lt Aliea, the alien navigator of the starship USS Enterprise. The bald pate of the 29-year-old, dark- haired, vivacious beauty from Bombay was flashed across posters world- wide, making her an instant celebrity.

Four years later she starred opposite Sylvester Stallone in Night Hawks and became the first Indian to present an award at the Oscar ceremony in Los Angeles. Earlier, at the Miss World contest in Miami in the mid- 1960s, where local newspapers referred to her as the "prettiest Indian girl to be seen in the US in many years", Khambatta was offered a role in a Bond film. But she turned it down as she had promised her mother that she would return home immune to Western allurements.

Soon after, she won the best fledgling actress award for her role as a swinging Sixties Bombay woman in the avant-garde Indian film Bombay rat ki bahoon mein ("Bombay by Night", 1969) But, tiring of Bollywood's lack of professionalism, Khambatta left for London, where she became a well-known model.

She bagged her first international film role in 1975 in The Wilby Conspiracy, acting opposite Michael Caine and Sidney Poitier. In the same year, she also starred in Conduct Unbecoming, with Richard Attenborough, Michael York and Trevor Howard.

After acting in two little-known science fiction films - Warrior of the Lost World and Mega Force - in the late 1980s Khambatta returned to Bombay to work on Pride of India, a pictorial history featuring past Miss Indias since the Fifties.

Persis Khambatta was born into a middle-class Parsee home in Bombay in 1948; her tryst with fame began at the age of 14. A set of her pictures casually taken by a well-known Bombay photographer ended up as a successful campaign for a popular soap brand and eventually to Khambatta's becoming a model. She entered the Miss India contest in 1965 and won it.

She continued modelling before leaving for London and the United States for her career as international model and Hollywood star. In the United States, she used her film success to campaign hard for ethnic minority actors to play ethnic roles, which were being cornered by white men in dark make-up.

But, tiring of life in the West, she returned to Bombay in the early 1990s and, defying feminists who opposed beauty contests on the grounds that they merely flauted women as sex objects she laboriously produced Pride of India (1996), an anthology of former Miss Indias and other stunningly attractive Indian women who had participated in international beauty contests. Her book also featured Mother Teresa of Calcutta whose wrinkled face, Khambatta said, radiated beauty.

Though Khambatta complained bitterly about India, its filthiness, lack of civic sense and professionalism, she never severed her links with her beloved Bombay, always slipping back into the city and picking up the threads from her previous visit. A thorough professional and obsessively punctual, Khambatta was a private person. In her last television appearance, on a chat show five days ago, she claimed that she could have got innumerable film roles in Hollywood had she agreed to act in the nude. She also admitted to having a few affairs which, unfortunately, did not "work out" and translate into anything permanent.

Kuldip Singh

Persis Khambatta, actress and model: born Bombay October 1948; died Bombay 18 August 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits