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The many Middle Eastern faces of Ben Kingsley.

The many Middle Eastern faces of Ben Kingsley. (photo)

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In his long and storied career, Sir Ben Kingsley has played Lenin, Dmitri Shostakovich, Simon Wiesenthal, Meyer Lansky, Moses and Sweeney Todd. Thanks to his half-Indian background, he’s also frequently been a go-to generic Middle Easterner: one of his first parts was as a Pakistani cab-driver in Mike Leigh’s 1973 TV movie “Hard Labour,” Mohandas K. Gandhi in, uh, “Gandhi,” and — of course — Guru Tugginmypudha in “The Love Guru.”

Now, he’s back to the well once more for “Taj,” playing Shah Jahan, the 17th-century Indian Mughal emperor “best known,” as Variety puts it, “for building the Taj Mahal” in memoriam to his late wife, Mumtaz Mahal. As Kingsley’s wife Daniela Lavendar, who is set to co-star, explains, “The idea is to transform this into a ‘Rome’-style adult period drama, bringing out the sex and sexuality underlying everything in that society, its adultery and jealousy.” Given that Mahal died while giving birth to the couple’s 14th child, I guess this means we have a lot of Ben Kingsley sex scenes to look forward to. Yay?

Sir Ben is one of our most paycheck-frenzied actors, and there’s nothing wrong with that: we all need to make a living, and you can’t do that without being in a few “BloodRaynes.” It’s ironic that the man born Krishna Pandit Bhanji, who changed his name to get more work, is perhaps best known for playing Middle Easterners but it’s way more legitimate than, say, Laurence Olivier putting on blackface in the ’60s to play a Sudanese Nubian. It’s just one of history’s little ironies that a half-Indian/British boy raised in Sheffield is just well-known enough to swing both ways without angering anyone.

And, lest we forget, Kingsley’s work ethic and elasticity also led to the apparently indelible sight of the actor as Selim the Sheikh in 1985’s “Harem,” where he kidnaps Nastassja Kinski and adds her to the stable. No really. Clip below, and do look forward to Kingsley’s turn as Nizam in next year’s “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.” With Jake Gyllenhaal as “Prince Dastan” and Alfred Molina as “Sheikh Amar”! Now that’s pushing it.

[Photo: “Gandhi,” Sony, 1982.]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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