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Bollywood attracts global actors
Priyanka Khanna  [ Sun, Jun 24, 2007 ]
Bollywood attracts global actors

  • New Delhi, June 24 (IANS) A growing numbers of foreign actors in search of high-profile roles and a stage to launch or resurrect their careers are flocking to the world's most prolific film industry in India.

    Miss England 2006 Eleanor Glynn is the latest to add to the list with Aditya Raj Kapoor - veteran actor Shammi Kapoor's son - reportedly offering her a Bollywood film tentatively titled "India Rocks".

    Ali Larter, recently ranked sixth in a list of "hottest women" in the world and key star of "Final Destination" and "Legally Blonde", will soon be seen romancing Bollywood's star Salman Khan in "Marigold". Ali plays the title role in the film by Hollywood director Willard Carroll.

    Unlike unsubstantial roles being offered to reigning Indian stars by Hollywood studios, foreign actors are seen playing major roles in films by a new generation of filmmakers that are scripting stories that go beyond the typical song-and-dance filled epics of the past.

    "Bollywood is suddenly being taken seriously by Western actors," says Taran Adarsh, a Bollywood trade analyst. "There was a perception that Bollywood was a very downmarket industry but that perception has changed in the last three to four years."

    The foreign invasion of Bollywood began in 1971 with British actress Zahida Zahira in superstar Dev Anand's "Gambler". She was followed by another British actress, Sheeba.

    Between 1971 and 1990, only three Pakistani actresses, Salma Aga, Zeba Bakhtiyar and Somi Ali, and Babita from Bangladesh penetrated Bollywood. Of them, only Salma and Babita were commercially successful. Babita got her golden chance in Satyajit Ray's "Asani Sanket" (Distant Thunder), which became a major hit.

    The current actresses in Bollywood are, however, drawn not just from neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh, but from all over the world, including Czechoslovakia, Norway, South Africa, Australia, Serbia, the US, Britain and Thailand.

    Gone are the days when white foreigners were cast chiefly as callous colonial authority figures and Anglo-Saxon actors like Tom Alter and Bob Cristo could manage only occasional villainous or character roles in Indian films.

    A far greater breadth of parts is being offered and lapped up by actors and performers from across the world. Toby Stephens ("Mangal Pandey: The Rising") is by far the biggest Hollywood actor to have acted in a Hindi film recently. The British actor gave a critically acclaimed brilliant performance in "Mangal Pandey" as Captain William Gordon.

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  • More recently, Tania Zhetta made her presence felt in two Hindi films - "Bunty Aur Babli" and "Salaam Namaste" and Alice Patten had critics raving with her performance in "Rang De Basanti" opposite one of Bollywood's leading stars - Aamir Khan.

    Alice's fellow countrywoman Rachel Shelley had previously romanced Aamir in "Lagaan". But Rachel got into trouble with Aamir for allegedly revealing the storyline before the film's release.

    But perhaps the credit for the most remarkable performances by a British female actor in a recent Bollywood film goes to Antonia Bernath in "Kisna". The film, however, was a box-office dud and one has not heard of Antonia since.

    Even run-of-the-mill Bollywood films are featuring foreign female actors prominently. Take Annabell Wallace who got to debut with Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan in "Dil Jo Bhi Kahey". A bad box-office report of her film spelled the doom for her Bollywood career.

    Emma Bunton, the former Spice Girl, had a bit role in "Pyaar Mein Twist" but met with a similar fate and was never heard of again.

    Ditto for South African beauty Ilene Hamann who was seen in Pooja Bhatt's "Rog", "Baywatch" beauty Brande Rodericks in "Out of Control", British brunette Sophie Dahl who was seen gyrating to Hindi songs in "The King of Bollywood", Serbian model Jelena Jakovljevic, who appeared in a sizzling dance number in the Pritish Nandy Communications' film "Popcorn Khao Mast Ho Jayo", while New Zealander Martin Henderson was seen playing the suitor to Bollywood stunner Aishwarya Rai in "Bride and Prejudice".

    Undeterred, the beeline for Bollywood is just getting longer.


    Settling down in India to make it big in Bollywood is the extreme step likes of Hazel (quarter Irish, quarter British, quarter Austrian and quarter Indian) are taking. After two years of roughing it out in the world of television advertising, Hazel debuted with Robbie Grewal's "Mera Pehla Pehla Pyar" that released recently.

    Half Indian and half British Katrina Kaif who tasted first commercial success this year with "Namastey London" is clearly leading the pack of female actors with mixed parentage in Bollywood.

    Yana Gupta and Negar Khan are among the other better-known foreigners who made India their home base. A few years ago Lisa Ray, who is half Indian, had left Bollywood despite delivering a hit in "Kasoor". Settled in England, she has said goodbye to Bollywood for good. Lisa has attained international acclaim through her performance in Deepa Mehta's "Water".

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  • Bhojpuri filmmaker Ramprabesh Akela believes foreign actresses have failed to win mass acceptance because of their alien looks and faltering Hindi. Akela said Bollywood directors cast foreign actresses in part because they command 50 to 70 percent lower prices and have no qualms about appearing in steamiest avatars on screen.