The hit culture mixtape
A Polish-Indian news anchor is making waves as the lead in a Kannada television show. Krystyna Devina Lason on playing a part that reminds her of her father's life
The first time Krystyna Devina Lason heard the script of Kannada serial Billi Hendthi (Fair Complexioned Girl), it felt like the story of her father, Michael Lason. Except, the protagonist here was a foreign girl who marries a Kannadiga boy, moves to India and has to fight resistance from the in-laws. Born to a Polish father and Indian mother, Lason was all too familiar with the trope. "My parents met when they were studying to be professors of French in Paris. They fell in love and got married. At the time, Poland was a communist country, and due to the volatile political atmosphere, it was difficult for young people, especially foreigners, to make a career," she says. The next best option was to settle in India. Although the plan was to eventually move back, Michael ended up working for the Polish consulate in India. The family would, however, visit Poland often.
Excited but unsure, Lason, 31, signed the script.
A year later, the actress has no regrets. The soap has crossed 450 episodes on Star Suvarna and is currently streaming on Hotstar. Lason, on her part, has transitioned from being "a complete alien" on set to proficient in Kannada. "I understand everything and can comfortably get by," she shares. For close to a decade, she worked as a news anchor and divided her time between India and London. After acquiring a journalism degree from Harvard University, she was employed with media firms in the UK. A few years later, she returned to India and continued to work as anchor and producer with a news channel. It’s around this time that she landed the opportunity to play the female lead in the serial. After receiving a call from the producers last year, she flew from Delhi to Bengaluru for the audition. The serial had been in limbo for five years as the makers hadn’t found the right female lead. "I was told that the dialogues would be a mix of Kannada and English, with more of the latter. I was relieved," she says. The happiness was short-lived. The producers soon realised that an overdose of English on a regional show would get them into trouble with the industry union. "And, just like that, all the dialogues were turned to Kannada," she laughs.
A still from Billi Hendthi
Given the frenetic shooting schedule, Lason had to move to Bengaluru. "Now that the serial was finally on floors, they did not want the leads to drop out." Commitment wasn’t a problem for Lason, who would clock in 14 hours on set. This, however, did not necessarily translate into camaraderie with the crew. "Day one was lonely," she recounts. Having lived and travelled around the world, Lason was open to the idea of adjusting to a new culture. But, she had not met this sort of resistance. "I was perceived as the outsider. The team had never worked with an actor outside of Karnataka, let alone India. It took them time to overcome the cultural barrier."
Initially, Billi Hendthi aired five days a week, but an encouraging response from viewers prompted the makers to make it a daily show." The funny thing about Kannada is that the smallest change in pronunciation can change the meaning of things. I had no clue. So, I would merrily flaunt my newly-acquired grasp of the language only to be rebuked." And, that helped break the ice.
Lason is now mulling her next career move which is most likely to be in the movies. "I need a role that resonates with me, just like Billi Hendthi."
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