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The invasion of the pretty aliens


Girls from foreign climes are climbing the bollywood ladder with ease and grace
SAIBAL CHATTERJEE | Issue Dated: July 8, 2012, New Delhi
Tags : FOEIGNERS IN INDIAN CINEMA | foreign models in bollywood |

They come in all shapes, sizes and hues. Over the past century, Indian cinema has wooed feminine beauty and charm with the consistent ardour of a true lover. The parade of divas across our screens has been dramatically diverse. We have exulted over the plain Jane that you can confidently take home to mom as much as over the sultry heart-breaker you fantasise about. We have been blown away as much by voluptuous bombshells as by dainty seductresses. We have celebrated the pure-as-driven-snow epitome of virtue as much as the unstoppable femme fatale out to create ripples.

And not too infrequently, we have fallen in love with girls from foreign climes. Their number has increased appreciably in recent years.Indian cinema has never seen anybody quite like Sunny Leone. The Canadian porn star is the first-ever adult movie actress to make a go of a career in mainstream Hindi cinema. She landed in Mumbai for Bigg Boss Season 5, and decided to stay on. The 31-year-old Indian-origin Ontario-born hottie is making steady progress in Bollywood.


Her first Hindi film, Jism 2, directed by Pooja Bhatt, is nearing completion. She has also been cast by Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Motion Pictures in the upcoming sequel to last year’s sleeper hit Ragini MMS.

Leone is generating a giant media buzz for obvious reasons, but she isn't the only actress who has arrived from beyond the seven seas and begun to make headway in the Mumbai movie industry. Bollywood has thrown its doors open to girls with hyphenated identities.

Who would have ever imagined that a half-Icelandic Angela Jonsson or a part Australian Lisa Haydon would one day be vying for a toehold in the very domain that was once the preserve of a Hema Malini, a Jaya Bhaduri or a Rekha?

Indian cinema’s first North American import, Dorothy Kingdom, who starred in Suchet Singh’s silent mythological drama, Shakuntala, in 1920, is today a distant memory, a mere footnote in the history of Indian cinema.

Russian actress Kseniya Ryabinkina, who played a trapeze artiste and one of Raj Kapoor’s love interests in Mera Naam Joker (1972), did return in 2009 for a cameo in the unreleased Rishi Kapoor film, Chintuji.  It was only a brief fling.

But Australian-born 'Fearless' Nadia, nee Mary Evans, continues to be a timeless Indian cinema legend. Is there any other path-breaker like her on the horizon that has the potential to join her in that exalted zone?

Today, girls from different parts of the world, including western Europe, are making a mark in cinema made in different Indian languages. Fearless Nadia has company. Generally speaking, it is commercial Indian cinema’s growing clout as a thriving movie industry that has made it a favoured destination for models and actresses from abroad.

This phenomenon was once limited to blonde backup dancers who descended on Bollywood in droves – they continue to be part of India’s entertainment landscape. The leap from being glorified extras to lead roles was only a hop, step and jump away. 

Shall we call it the Katrina effect? The runaway Bollywood success of Katrina Kaif, a Hong Kong-born British-Kashmiri actress who can barely speak a line of Hindi, seems to have helped dispel the inhibitions that aspirants of her ilk had in the past regarding taking the plunge into the slipperyworld of Indian movies.    

Over the past decade, there have been many flashes in the pan like Rachel Shelley (Lagaan), Antonia Bernath (Kisna), Ilene Hamann (Rog), Alice Patten (Rang De Basanti), Tania Zaetta (Bunty Aur Babli, Salaam Namaste) and Ali Larter (Marigold).

But the current crop of lovely imports aren’t here for one-off assignments. They have dug their heels in for the long haul. They have lent a new exciting tinge to Indian cinema by adding a whole new meaning to the Shakespearean adage: all the world's their stage.


The list of such actresses is growing steadily. There is Liverpool-born Amy Jackson, New York-based Pakistani-Czech model Nargis Fakhri, Londoner-turned-Mumbaikar Hazel Keech, Brazilian-Arab hottie Bruna Abdullah, British Indian beauty queen Preeti Desai, Sri Lankan actress Jacqueline Fernandez, Rio de Janeiro-born Nathalia Pinheiro (who has changed her surname to Kaur) and Giselli Monteiro, a Brazilian who made an impression playing a traditional Punjabi girl in Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal.

These girls have gone many steps ahead of Czech beauty and item girl Yana Gupta (born Yana Synkova), who has, besides the Babuji zara dheere chalo chartbuster from Dum, appeared opposite Arjun Rampal in Ek Ajnabee, and a few films made in the south. She was among the first foreigners to trigger the current trend. 

Most of these actresses have used international modelling, the Kingfisher Calendar shoot or item numbers to enter Bollywood; some have debuted in films down south before moving to Mumbai movies; and one, German-born, US-educated Elena Kazan, who majored in Modern Middle East Politics and History and once aspired to learn Arabic and work in Yemen, ended up in the world of Indian cinema quite by chance.

Much like 21-year-old Amy Jackson. “I did not choose Indian cinema, it chose me,” Jackson says. She made her Hindi debut earlier this year in Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Ekk Deewana Tha, playing a Malayali Christian girl opposite Prateik Babbar. She is now a full-fledged Tamil movie star.

Jackson, a beauty queen who won numerous crowns (Miss Liverpool, Miss Teen World, Miss Teen Great Britain and Miss England runner-up), saw her life take a completely unexpected turn when she landed a role in the Tamil film, Madarasapattinam (Madras City), which opened in 2010.

Her next Tamil film, Thandavam, in which she has been cast opposite southern superstar Vikram, is due for release later this year. Jackson has now hired a Hindi tutor to learn India’s national language. She obviously has her sights set on a long innings in Hindi cinema. “I had no idea that I wanted to act until south Indian director AL Vijay (erstwhile Priyadarshan assistant) offered me a role in 2009,” she says.

Kazan's story is pretty much the same. “A career in films was far from my mind when I landed in India,” she says. “It just happened.” Kazan, who speaks fluent Hindi, was employed with an Indo-German trade body in Kolkata. “I was associated with an NGO and worked with people who knew only Hindi,” she says.


Her first brush with cinema was when she worked as a unit hand on an Australian film set in Kolkata, The Waiting City. One thing led to another and Kazan found herself doing small roles in Bengali-language films.
She moved to Mumbai a year ago and her first Hindi film, Prague, directed by Ashish Shukla and co-starring Chandan Roy Sanyal, is ready for release.

The latest to join the bandwagon is 24-year-old Nathalia Kaur, whose first Hindi film, Department, directed by Ram Gopal Varam, opened recently. So impressed is RGV with this Indian-Brazilian model that he has already signed her on as the lead in a romantic thriller opposite Rana Daggubati.

American fashion model Nargis Fakhri, 33, did not receive glowing reviews for her performance in Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar, but she is on the move nonetheless. Her next film, Khiladi 786, has Akshay Kumar as her co-star. “I don’t mind criticism one bit,” says the 2009 Kingfisher Calendar model. “It can only help me grow.”

These ladies know exactly what they want.Preeti Desai, who debuted in Shor in the City last year, is now doing a cameo alongside her real-life beau Abhay Deol in Navdeep Singh’s Rock the Shaadi. She made history in 2006 by becoming the first ever girl of Indian descent to be crowned Miss Great Britain. In 2008, she sizzled on the Kingfisher Swimsuit Special Calendar. And her film debut provided glimpses of her talent. It is pretty apparent that, in the years ahead, we will be hearing a great deal more of Preeti Desai as well as the other new imports that are chasing stardom in the increasingly 'expansive' Mumbai movie industry. 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017