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Will Hollywood notice Naseer?

Arthur J Pais | July 09, 2003 14:06 IST

Naseeruddin Shah gets 11th billing in the credits of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a very funny and often thrilling entertainer.

Its cast is led by Sean Connery, who is also one of its producers.Naseerudin Shah in The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen

The flowing beard Shah wears, along with a turban, makes him look like a Sikh warrior. But he is something else: a Kali-worshipping character called Captain Nemo. Nemo is one of the many legendary literary characters in the movie; the list includes Allan Quartermain, Tom Sawyer, Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde and Dorian Gray.

Yet, despite the belated billing and despite having half his face covered, Shah is a powerful force throughout the film. He expertly uses his eyes and voice to make his presence felt.

Shah first appears in the film just 10 minutes after it starts. You see him waving a sword dazzlingly and whipping a pistol out dexterously in practically every scene in the film. He also joins Connery in many comic scenes. He is not made to talk in the exaggerated singsong manner like many desi characters in Hollywood and British films do, and that is a welcome relief. You sense Shah enjoyed being in this escapist fare.

The second time the credits appear -- at the end of the movie -- Naseeruddin Shah gets second billing immediately after Connery.

If the role had more dramatic moments, Shah would have done more justice to it. Yet, in his first mainstream film in the West, Shah remains a lively presence. He may not be remembered at the Oscars, but surely someone in Hollywood will view his performance in the film as a test run for more solid work.

The sci-fi adventure, based on comic books by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill and scripted by James Dale Robinson, uses nearly a dozen literary characters involved in a plot to either to save the world or dominate it.

The $100 million movie is one of the more expensive films released this summer and opens across America this Friday.  It was directed by Stephen Norrington, whose 1998 comic strip adaptation Blade, starring Wesley Snipes, became a surprise hit earning about $160 million worldwide.Naseeruddin Shah

The story of the new film focuses on renowned but retired adventurer Allan Quartermain (Connery), who has compelling reasons to return to England from Africa. He then leads a team of extraordinary figures with intriguing powers to battle the terror of a madman known as The Fantom. This League comprises seafarer/inventor Captain Nemo (Shah), vampire Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), an invisible man (Tony Curran), American secret service agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West), the seemingly ageless Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), and the split personality Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde (Jason Flemyng).

At an advance screening in New York, some of the older viewers were surprised to find a very desi looking Captain Nemo.

Shah had lot to do with it.   

In an interview with ComingSoon.Net, Shah said he based his Nemo more on the original book by Jules Verne than the previous film versions of the character. 'I had read the book 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and seen the movie in which James Mason played Nemo. That was about all,' he explained. 'I was very relieved they didn't ask me to play Nemo the same way as James Mason did. They let me play it like the Indian person that he is.'

The movie, released by 20th Century Fox, opens in an overcrowded season in America, and will have to face stiff competition from the flashier, more expensive period drama, Pirates Of The Caribbean. Yet, it could become the sleeper hit of the season, opening to reasonably decent numbers and building its popularity on good word of mouth.

In Britain, it opens August 15, and will open in most of Europe in October.

Connery and his fellow producers have more than hope for the film. They are convinced it will be a steady hit. They have already greenlit the sequel.

Shah will be in it too.

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