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`Bollywood' superstar heads west

David Lister reports on the `Dustin Hoffman of India' appearing at the National
One of the biggest movie stars in the world is to take a star role with the National Theatre, in a play that is certain to get the National it most multi-ethnic audience ever.

Naseeruddin Shah is virtually unknown to white cinema audiences in Britain. But among Asian film goers here and throughout India he is a cinema superstar.

The 45-year-old millionaire from "Bollywood", the Bombay- based film industry in India, was at the National Theatre yesterday to promote the production of Cyrano in which he will star. The play is a co-production between the National and Tara Arts and will move the 19th century French story to the Indian Raj in 1930. It will have no white people in the cast.

The production of Cyrano opens in October in London this autumn before touring to Bradford and other provincial cities. The production will then move to India. Mr Shah was described by Shiv Kant, a member of the Hindu service of the BBC, as "the Dustin Hoffman of India, equally at home in an art film, a comercial blockbuster or even as a song and dance man".

But Mr Shah described how being an Indian film star had its pitfalls. He said: "The business of being a celebrity I don't regret, but it does get a bit tiresome. In India I don't get treated as a human being. It is fine in Bombay where I live but they are very hostile towards me in Delhi. In India they either like a movie star or have a strong resentment towards him. Sometimes they throw things at me and thump my car.

"It's also difficult for me to walk around Southall. There are strong reactions for and against. I get crowded and not all of the people are pleasant to me. Some say I'm older or uglier than I look in films. And here again things have been thrown at me."

Nevertheless Mr Shah said he was honoured to be at the National Theatre, even though he would be working for the lowest salary he had had in years. Asked for his advice for the British film industry, Mr Shah said: "Have lots of songs in your movies."