As more and more foreigners dream of making it big in Bollywood, a reality check reveals that one needs to have more than just looks to make it big in the Hindi film industry
Amy Jackson is a Britisher from Liverpool. But her heart now belongs to Bollywood. Barely a film old in Chennai, the pretty lass from Liverpool has moved to Mumbai where, if the grapevine is to be believed, she is dating Marathi-Punjabi actor Prateik, her co-star in her Bollywood debut film Ek Deewana Tha. Really, how much more desi can Amy get!
Chikni Chameli: Katrina Kaif in Agneepath
Amy is the latest in a lengthy line of ladies from Europe and America trying their luck in Bollywood. And of course there is plenty of room for white skinned girls in Bollywood. So we had the hawk-eyed Imtiaz Ali casting Brazilian model Giselle Monteiro as a Punjabi Kudi in Love �Aaj Kal. Giselle was gori-chitti fair and rather lovely. A vanishing dream, so to speak. She fitted the bill. And we do mean the bill in a fiscal sense. Caucasian beauties are not expensive to hire. They come to Mumbai with stars in their eyes dreaming of becoming 'another Katrina Kaif'. But they forget that Katrina didn't become the Hema Malini of this millennium because of her half-British origin.
It's Katrina's sunny demeanour , wholesome appeal and that face which launches a thousand 'sips'(she does endorse a mango drink) which did the trick for her.
Still Waiting: Hazel Keech
Says the keen observer of aesthetics. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, "At a time when all the other heroines are going Western in their body shapes and attitude, Katrina is very Indian in her personality and conduct. No bikini, no kissing, not too much exposure. Indian guys like that. Indian women like it even better. Katrina is a safe proposition. Katrina is the girl you can take home to your mother without father getting wicked thoughts." It wasn't easy for Katrina. "I couldn't speak Hindi. I hadn't grown up on a staple of Bollywood films in London and I wasn't about to pretend that I had. I started from scratch. I had only instincts to follow. I am still learning. As for the films, if they succeeded that's just my good luck," says Katrina. And lot of hard work including Hindi-Urdu classes and learning the jhatkas-matkas that culminated in her Chikni Chameli act bringing the house down in Agneepath.
Then there is Giselle or for that matter Hazel Keech, the half-British, half-Indian girl who stole Salman Khan from under Kareena Kapoor's eyes in Bodyguard. In spite of being in the biggest hit of 2011 Hazel has signed no films after Bodyguard. Says Hazel, "I don't have any offers as yet. Immediately after Bodyguard, I did a play The Real Inspector Hound at Prithvi Theatres. I do speak Hindi well. But I couldn't dub my own lines in Bodyguard. They told me I could try to dub my own lines, but we finished shooting very late and the film was to be released in Eid. Most Indian films are made in sync sound. So my diction does get in the way. I spoke perfect Hindi when I came here. Thanks to my mom and my maternal grandmother, I grew up in England with Indian culture and Bollywood. I learnt Bharat Natyam and Kathak. I also learnt Bollywood dancing along with theatre, lots of British and Hindi stuff in Britain." Giselle had even bought herself an apartment in Mumbai and imported her boyfriend from Brazil to join her in Mumbai. But aside from a super-flop appearance in debutant director Roshan Abbas' Always Kabhi Kabhi Giselle's career is like a half-percolated pot of Brazilian coffee.
Talk of the town: Prateik with Amy Jackson
A look at Imtiaz Ali's other enticing import, Nargis Fakhri. Her Rockstar co-star Ranbir had told this writer that Nargis will not only sweep the debutant awards she will also win the National award. Far from being feted by Bollywood, Nargis has for now returned to her home in New York awaiting her Next Big Thing in Bollywood.
Before leaving the beautiful half-Czech actress had declared, "I really feel safe in Mumbai. And yes, I am definitely going to work harder on my Hindi, although I don't know how much I can work having worked nearly 10 hours a day on it for three months. I tried so hard to master the language, I'd cry every night wondering how much harder I had to try. I had never acted before and I felt, what the hell why not give it a shot? After completing Rockstar I just let it go."
Barbara Mori who came to India with the fanfare of a queen descending on her subjects was the toast of tinsel town during the release of Anurag Basu's Kites. She left the country claiming she would return to be part of "some big Bollywood offers." After all she had Hrithik Roshan's backing and Rakesh Roshan's blessing. Said the senior Roshan, "We didn't sign Barbara for her beauty alone. She is also a very fine actress." Evidently the rest of Bollywood didn't agree with the Roshans. Not much has been heard of her since.
Director Gautham Menon feels Amy Jackson has the wherewithal and beauty to go where no other foreigner has gone after Katrina Kaif. "We looked around extensively for an Indian girl. Somehow Amy seemed more right to play the Malyali-Catholic girl in Ek Deewana Tha. We filmmakers are constantly on the look-out for new faces. And these Caucasian girls are at the right place at the right time." Menon feels the penchant for globalized glamour in Bollywood is a temporary phase. "The urge to look Westwards is not what guided my gaze to Amy. I chose her because she suited the character."
Waiting for the next movie? Actress Nargis Fakhri
Subhash Ghai who cast an English girl in Kisna opposite Vivek Oberoi because the script demanded a British actress, thinks the foreign invasion is a sign of Indian cinema's hankering for global acceptance. "When Indian filmmakers dream of international recognition these Caucasian girls fall into their laps. The craze for firangi girls will die down once we start making desi films again." Oye Lucky Lucky Oye director Dibakar Bannerjee who has Kalki Koechlin (of French parentage) playing a foreigner in his next film Shanghai, feels resorting to Caucasian beauties in Bollywood is a symptom of colonial inferiority among Indians. "My film Shanghai plays up this gora-chamra complex. I even have a foreign dancer doing a Bollywood item song. I guess this dependency on foreign resources shows Indian civilization's lack of confidence in its own definitions of beauty and an eagerness to get approval from the West. It's the old colonial-bastard-child-wants-to-be-like-missing-dad syndrome. This inferiority complex is typical of many societies struggling to define themseves by western standards."
Producer and industry spokesperson Pahlaj Nihalani is more perturbed by the legality of foreigners coming in rather than the colour of their skin. Says Nihalani, "I want foreigners to be accountable in Bollywood. They should firstly become members of a film federation and must also have a proper work permit. Our producers are also to blame for making wrongful payments to foreign artistes. I think foreign artistes who come without proper papers should be banned. There should be a government policy-revision against granting visas to foreign artistes who do not have proper work permits. So many foreign artistes come here and become major stars. No one has bothered to check their work permits. Which country allows any foreigner to work on a tourist visa beyond six months or one year?"