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Under Persian Masks



Sir Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina Join Cast on Disney's Prince of Persia Movie Production


©imdb & photocomposition ©DK


Disney has announced that Alfred Molina and Ben Kingsley have been cast in the big screen adaptation of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, joining Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace). Disney's live-action adaptation of the popular action adventure video game series, follows an adventurous prince Dastan (Gyllenhaal) who must join forces with a rival princess Tamina (Arterton), a feisty and exotic princess  to prevent a villainous nobleman from possessing the Sands of Time, a gift from the gods that can reverse time. Molina will play Sheik Amar, a mentor to the prince, while  Kingsley is cast as Vizier, the main villain of the film. Interestingly both Kingsley and Molina have both been formerly cast as Iranian (Original name for Persian nationals since 1925) in two different films which each reflected tragic characters whose lives are torn and individual destinies fatally determined by the paradoxes of history international politics.

Familiar to Iran/Persian History: Sir Ben Kingsley narrated a BBC documentary (***) on the life of Mohamed Reza Shah Pahlavi the last Iranian Monarch a few years ago shortly after his ground breaking role as an Iranian Pahlavi Era Officer in the critically acclaimed Hollywood Drama The House of Sand and Fog © imdb &Photocomposition ©DK



Alfred Molina has become a familiar face in Hollywood often cast as a villain in such Blockbuster films like Spiderman 2, The Da Vinci Code or in the very first Indiana Jones Adventure: Raiders of the Lost Ark (playing a cowardly guide who betrays Indiana Jones in a sacred Peruvian tomb only to be killed shortly after by a deadly arrowed trap door) or in more artistically ambitious roles like in Julie Taymor Frida cast as Diego Rivera husband of Mexican Painter Frida Kahlo opposite Salma Hayek in the title role. Molina was born in 1953 in London, England, to a Spanish father and an Italian mother. He studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London. His stage work includes two major Royal National Theatre productions, Tennessee Williams' "The Night of the Iguana" (as Shannon) and David Mamet's "Speed the Plow" (as Fox), plus a splendid performance in Yasmina Reza's "Art" (his Broadway debut), for which he received a Tony Award nomination in 1998. He made his film debut in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and got a good part in Letter to Brezhnev (1985) (as a Soviet sailor who spends a night in Liverpool), but his movie breakthrough came two years later when he played--superbly--Kenneth Halliwell, the tragic lover of playwright Joe Orton, in Stephen Frears' Prick Up Your Ears (1987). He was also outstanding in Enchanted April (1992), The Perez Family (1995) (as a Cuban immigrant), Anna Karenina (1997) (as Levin) and Chocolat (2000) (as the narrow-minded mayor of a small French town circa 1950s, who tries to shut down a chocolate shop).

Molina as Betty Mahmoudy's Estranged husband opposite Sally Fields in the title role photocomposition ©DK


To Iranian movie goers however Molina may be remembered, rediscovered or unjustly reduced for his role in the controversial 1991 film Not Without my Daughter  (*) opposite Sally Field based on an autobiography by American Betty Mahmoudy. The story of an American married happily to an Iranian doctor and who accepts to follow him along with their daughter to Iran shortly after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The book had provoked the rage of many Iranians worldwide for presenting a stereotyped image of Iranians in general and for reducing their rich culture to that of a paranoid nation caught in a bloody 8 year war with neighboring Iraq widely maintained and financed by American and European Arms sales to both antagonist nations. The film (*) unlike the best-selling book appears however as much more balanced in its depiction of Iran and Iranians and underlines the totalitarian nature of the Islamic Republic where all have to abide to its strict religious rules not by conviction but by fear. All the more that Betty and her daughter ultimately manage to escape Iran with the help of Iranian dissidents which makes her bid to escape from her fanatic estranged husband all the more indebted to freedom and peace loving Iranians. In retrospect the film fails to be anything but a B-Movie however with a valid social or feminist statement about abused wives and estranged husbands than the angry literary rant that crystallized passionate debates worldwide particularly in America not without some editorial manipulation to guarantee sales and an unfair political recuperation by Western Governments of the time which saw an opportunity to vilify an entire nation in order to justify and overlook their own responsibilities in the advent of the Islamic Republic such as during the Iran gate scandal. However as a personal drama, Not Without my Daughter does play well and does a good work in recreating a war torn Iran exposing the tragedies faced by Iranians during the war with great accuracy such as the sporadic and daily bombardments by Iraqi Aviation or the recruiting of under age boys by the revolutionary guards in order to train, brainwash and send them to the war front with a plastic key to paradise as the ultimate compensation for glory. Nearly 17 years after its release the movie's moralistic message remains tainted by the cultural and political controversy created by the original book in which the author seems to supersede personal resentments towards her husband and his traditional and religious family background with that of a resentment for an entire nation which she hardly understood due to isolation and also a good degree of personal naivety. But credit has to be given to both Alfred Molina and Sally Field for taking up the challenge of their respective  roles in a true family drama that most probably deserved a more objective author in order to rally the sympathy and understanding of an Iranian public opinion largely at odds with its own country's government and religious theocracy. Ironically Molina will be playing an entirely different role in the Ancient World of the upcoming Prince of Persia playing the latter's mentor, Sheik Amar, that will contrast with his recurrent typecasting as a villain.

Ben Kingsley's numerous onscreen portrayals ©imdb & photocomposition © DK



British actor Sir Ben Kingsley is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Mahatma Gandhi in Richard Attenborough's 1982 film Gandhi, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor and the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year - Actor.


Kingsley was born Krishna Bhanji in Snainton, near Scarborough, Yorkshire, England, the son of Anna Lyna Mary (née Goodman), an actress and model, and Rahimtulla Harji Bhanji, a medical doctor. Kingsley's father, an Ismaili Muslim, was born in Kenya of Indian Khoja Gujarati descent, as Kingsley's paternal grandfather was a spice trader who had moved from India to Zanzibar, where Kingsley's father lived until moving to England at the age of fourteen. Kingsley's mother, born out of wedlock, was "loath to speak of her background"; she was the daughter of an English East London garment worker mother and a father who was believed by the family to have been a Russian or German Jew.


Kingsley grew up in Pendlebury, Salford, where he studied at University of Salford. He then moved to Lancashire, where he studied at Pendleton College, which later became home to the Ben Kingsley Theatre. Kingsley began his acting career on the stage at Manchester Grammar School, alongside Robert Powell, but made a transition to film roles early on. Despite this focus on film, he continued to act on the stage, playing Mosca in Peter Hall's 1977 production of Ben Jonson's Volpone for the Royal National Theatre, and in Peter Brook's acclaimed production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was at this time in his life that he changed his name from Krishna Bhanji to Ben Kingsley, fearing that a foreign name would hamper his career.

Alfred Molina's numerous onscreen portrayals ©imdb & photocomposition © DK


Kingsley's first film role was a supporting turn in Fear Is the Key, released in 1972. Kingsley continued starring in bit roles in both film and television, including a role as Ron Jenkins on the soap opera Coronation Street from 1966-1967 and regular appearances as a defense counsel in the long-running British legal program Crown Court. He found fame only years later, starring as Mohandas Gandhi in the Academy Award-winning film Gandhi in 1982, his best-known role to date. The audience also agreed with the critics, and Gandhi was a box-office success. Kingsley won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal.


Kingsley has since appeared in a variety of roles. His credits included the films Turtle Diary, Maurice, Pascali's Island, Without a Clue (as Dr. Watson alongside Michael Caine's Sherlock Holmes), Suspect Zero, Bugsy--which led to an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, Sneakers, Dave, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Schindler's List, Silas Marner, Death and the Maiden, Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story, Sexy Beast, for which he received another Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and House of Sand and Fog, which led to yet another Oscar nomination for Best Actor.


The House of Sand and Fog (**) offered Kingsley an opportunity to play an Iranian character diametrically different from Molina's fanatic fundamentalist both politically and family wise. However the common denominator between both stories is that they both are about misfit characters who are incapable of coping with their new lives. One Molina chooses to go back to his home country when he was perfectly happy but frustrated in the US, where as Kingsley has chosen Exile to America hoping to start a new life while maintaining the social standards and privileges of his former life as a proud and respected Colonel in the Shah's Army but who is faced with the insecurities and personal predicaments of deportation back to his former country where he would face sheer death. What unfolds is a modern day Greek or should I say Persian Tragedy for all involved the plot of which can be summarized as the following:




Amir Behrani (Ben Kingsley), who was a colonel in Shah's regime, spends most of his savings on a fancy wedding ceremony for his daughter. Once she is married, he purchases a house in auction in the hope of making a profit by selling it for a higher price. Behrani's goal is to spend the money he earns from selling the house to achieve his dream of building a place like the villa they used to have in north of Iran, and save the rest of the money for his son's (Jonathan Ahdout) education. However, Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), who was the former owner of the house and lost it mistakenly charged for unpaid taxes, steps in and makes the life difficult for them. She meets a policeman (Ron Eldard) and starts a relationship with him. To help Kathy get the house back, the police officer threatens the Behrani family with deporting them from the country if they do not leave the house. The struggles for the house lead to a tragic end.

Interestingly Sir Ben Kingsley seems to have a fascination with Iranian history and expressed his interest in portraying onscreen another figure of Iran's contemporary history: The Shah of Iran himself if ever a film were to be made on his life. In the meantime he has already narrated a major BBC documentary entitled The Last Persian Shah (***) that was aired a few years ago which is certainly one of the most complete televised biographies of the former Iranian monarch to date. 


Kingsley was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2000. He was knighted in the 2001 New Years Honors list. On promotional material for the 2006 film Lucky Number Slevin, Kingsley was referred to as "Sir Ben Kingsley." At first, the actor was singled out for some criticism, as such titles had generally come to be omitted from professional credits by that time. It was claimed that the inclusion of "Sir" was a mistake by a studio executive. His demand to be called 'Sir' was documented by the BBC, and contrasted with (Sir) David Puttnam's happiness with 'David Puttnam' and the rather more eminent Lord Olivier (Laurence Olivier) actually choosing to ignore people calling him 'Sir Laurence' or 'Lord Olivier' as opposed to his preferred 'Larry'. Kingsley appears to have learned, at least in public. Credits for his latest films refer to him only as 'Ben Kingsley'. This noted eccentricity does not diminish the widely accepted fact that he is  certainly one of the major film Star's and Stage Actor's of his generation. In recent years however Kingsley seems to have squandered his great talent in badly chosen onscreen productions like the failed Epic The Last Legion or Roman Polanski's disastrous adaptation of Charles Dicken's Oliver Twist or light comedies like the Mike Myers Box Office failure The Love Guru  that contrast with his great character roles in such memorable films like Richard Attenborough's Gandhi in the title role or Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List playing the German Industrialist's Jewish Secretary. If Kingsley's participation to the Prince of Persia movie project is a welcomed choice which will certainly guarantee the film Star's "Bankable status" in a Hollywood blockbuster, I'm afraid however that it will do little to enhance the range of his previous magnificent onscreen portrayals. One can only hope that by casting him as the villain Persian Vizir Nizam, the directors and producers of The Prince of Persia, will take full advantage of Kingsley's undeniable charisma, wit and inventiveness to create a memorable role that will remind viewers of the great Shakespearean and Stage Actor he actually is.  In addition, It should be noted that in 2008, Kingsley was awarded the "Cinema for Peace Honorary Award", for his film portrayals of the humanitarian role-models Simon Wiesenthal, Itzhak Stern and Gandhi.


Nevertheless the choice of Molina and Kingsley moving away from their typecast roles by playing respectively the Good and Bad Guy's in  the upcoming Disney Persian Epic is a wonderful irony that deserves notice and a happy coincidence which fans and movie critics will most probably be expecting with enthusiasm and curiosity.


A chance of escaping their own Typecast portrayals. photocomposition ©DK


Last but not least given the numerous Disney action productions in recent years, such as The Pirates of the Caribbean's  and its sequels the public's expectation of delivering a high quality entertainment with the upcoming Prince of Persia which has started shooting may explain why the release date for this adventure film has been postponed. Indeed Disney just announced that the release date of the Prince of Persia will be pushed back to May 28th 2010 instead of June 19th 2009. So rather than contend with the likes of Transformers 2, the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time movie will now be up against Shrek Goes Fourth and Marvel's new title, "Thor".


Production news and updates on the Prince of Persia will certainly be around for a long time before it hits the Screen. So that's another good reason to stay tuned and Remember Alfred Hitchcock's recurrent observation on his own films: Its JUST A MOVIE ...







Authors Notes:


Recommended Watching:


(*) MGM controversial film Not Without my Daughter  Starring Alfred Molina and Sally Field See Trailer


(**) Sir Ben Kingsley & Shohreh Aghdashloo ( For which she was nominated for an Oscar®  for Best Supporting Rold), stars of "House Of Sand And Fog." Interviewed by Jackie K. Cooper. Watch interview


(***) Ben Kingsley Narrates a BBC documentary The Last Shah Watch Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8

Recommended Readings:


On Prince of Persia: 

Persian Enigma by Darius KADIVAR

Jake Gyllenhaal Crowned Prince of Persia! By Darius KADIVAR
A Persian Prince in the Making by Darius KADIVAR


Persia? Ancient Persia's virtual absence in Hollywood By Darius KADIVAR
Swords and Sandals Films about Ancient Persia By Darius KADIVAR
Alexander is Back!: Oliver Stone's Epic on The Macedonian Conqueror By Darius KADIVAR

Hollywood Dream Merchants: Persian Props From Oliver Stone's Alexander Movie For Sale By Darius KADIVAR
The Persian Empire Strikes Back by Darius KADIVAR
THE IMMORTAL STUNTSMAN : An interview with Persian Stuntman Darren Shahlavi By Darius KADIVAR
Close Up on Shohreh Aghdashloo by Darius KADIVAR and Parisa Defaie
Xerxes a Screenplay By Ren A. Hakim by Darius KADIVAR
He is Awake: Close Up on Cyrus KAR by Darius KADIVAR
Lessons from the Keeper: Interview with Kayvan Mashayekh & Crew By Darius KADIVAR
Khayyam Mania!!!: Hollywood's depiction of the great Persian Poet's life by Darius KADIVAR (2003).
Persian Golden Boys in Hollywood by Darius KADIVAR



About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant. He is international Correspondent for OCPC Magazine and contributes to the IC publications of The Middle East. and Persian Heritage.

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