(written from a Production point of view)
Persis Khambatta (2 October 1948 – 18 August 1998; age 49) was an Indian model and actress who is perhaps best known for portraying Lieutenant Ilia in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Born in Mumbai, India, she was of Parsi ethnicity.
In 1965, at the age of 15, Khambatta was named Miss India and participated in that year's Miss Universe pageant. Unable to find success in the Indian film industry (known as Bollywood), she began acting in international films. She also became a model for various companies, including Revlon. She made her English-speaking acting debut with a supporting role in the 1975 thriller The Wilby Conspiracy, which she followed with the crime drama Conduct Unbecoming later that year. The latter film starred Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country actor Christopher Plummer.
Khambatta's first US production (the previous films were made in the UK) was the 1977 NBC TV movie The Man with the Power, which co-starred John de Lancie. For her very next project, Khambatta played the role for which she is most recognized – that of Ilia, the Deltan navigator of the USS Enterprise, in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The following year, she became the first Indian actress to present an Academy Award. Specifically, she co-presented the Oscar for Best Documentary, Short Subjects & Features at the 52nd Annual Academy Awards.
Her performance in Star Trek and the film's success led to major roles in the films Nighthawks (1981, featuring Jim Beaver and cinematography by James Contner), Megaforce (1982, featuring Bobby Bass and directed and co-written by Hal Needham, who also performed stunts), and Warrior of the Lost World (1985, co-starring Fred Williamson), and First Strike (with Harvey Vernon). She never really found success, however, and decided to return to India to try, once again, to establish herself as a Bollywood actress. When that did not work out, she returned to the United States and began working in television.
In 1986 Khambatta guest-starred in an episode of Hunter with Rod Arrants and Ben Slack and in an episode of MacGyver directed by Cliff Bole and featuring Sid Haig. The following year, she appeared on Mike Hammer along with Ian Abercrombie and Michael Ansara. She then returned to films, starring in the direct-to-video thriller Deadly Intent. This movie reunited Khambatta with her Warrior of the Lost World co-star (and TOS guest actor) Fred Williamson and also featured Clayton Rohner. Khambatta then played the lead role in the 1988 science fiction/action film Phoenix the Warrior, which proved to be her last film.
In 1993, Khambatta appeared in the pilot episode of the hit television series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which starred Teri Hatcher, Tracy Scoggins and K Callan, and was directed by Robert Butler. The pilot also featured fellow Trek alumni Christopher Darga, Clyde Kusatsu, and Kenneth Tigar. By 1997, Khambatta had returned to her native Bombay. In that year, she wrote and published a coffee table book about the history of the Miss India pageant titled Pride of India. On 17 August of the following year, Khambatta complained of chest pains and was admitted to a Bombay hospital. She died of a massive heart attack the next day. She was 49 years old.