Insiders, outsiders, nepotism, favouritism — these four words and their existence in Bollywood, have come back into the spotlight in the last one month since actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s sudden demise. The unfortunate incident stirred many debates, one of them being how outsiders are treated in the film industry. And the outsiders we’re talking about, are the quintessential foreign imports in Bollywood, and how is the journey for these actors who come to India for work, and belong to different countries and nationalities.
Actor Mandana Karimi, who was born in Iran, says it’s really tough when you’re entering any new society or business, where you’ve no idea about the language or the country.
“If an Indian wants to become an actor, they can get into work right away. For someone like me, I’ve to learn the language, make friends, understand how things works, there’s always that extra effort,” points the 32-year-old, who has starred in films such as Bhaag Johnny and Kya Kool Hain Hum 3.
Karimi adds there are specific kind of roles one gets boxed in as a foreigner, either due to their fair skin, or accent. “You’re white, so it’s easy to get typecast. I had this whole idea of trying to be Indian, looking like that and trying to fit in. I think my struggle was that. The moment you try and be someone you’re not, it becomes difficult. You’ve to accept being a foreigner and add your flavour to a role,” she says.
Former Bigg Boss contestant,Claudia Ciesla is another example of a foreigner making her space in Bollywood. A Polish-German, she admits accepting it early on that there’ll be only a specific kind of role that she’ll get. “I’m a foreigner, so I can’t play an Indian, same way Priyanka Chopra Jonas won’t be able to play a foreigner in Hollywood films. It’s because of the way we look. That’s a normal thing. Katrina Kaif made it so far because she’s half Indian, but I’m not,” she says, adding that “If it’s not fine with someone, they can always go back to their country, everybody has that option”.
For Swedish Greek actor Elli AvrRam, who also shot to fame after Bigg Boss,and then went on to star in films such as Malang and Mickey Virus, confesses it’s “extremely tough” as there’s already a perception about foreigners, which is completely wrong.
“It’s not only in terms of roles, but it’s also difficult being a foreigner in the city. Then for people to actually take you seriously and think that you’ve actually come here because you love Bollywood, and not to make some quick money – it’s a struggle,” she says.
The 29-year-old says another perception that she continues to deal with people thinking ‘Does she know Hindi, will she be able to act in Indian cinema, understand the emotions?’ AvrRam quips, “It’s like a preset notion, woh nahi kar paayegi. People get shocked when they hear me talk in Hindi, I’m amazed myself.”
Evelyn Sharma concurs that being of a different nationality proved to be an obstacle in her career. “People thought I’d be comfortable doing skin show or intimate scenes onscreen because I’m a foreigner. I was almost getting stereotyped to play such characters, which is why I’ve not taken up those sexy roles in thrillers and horror films. That’s not me,” says the German model-actor, who prefers to rather do fun roles in comedies which would “tap my half-indian-and-half-foreigner identity”.
Elaborating on this, Karimi retorts that nobody should be able to tell an actor what characters they fit into. “Many people have come here as foreigners and got stuck into the whole mindset that a foreigner can’t do this. You shouldn’t let people tag you. It does take time to get out of that stereotype. That’s a problem when people eventually bracket you into ‘hot, sexy, who doesn’t know much Hindi’ type. But two-three years ago, I decided I don’t want to do that kind of stuff,” she shares.
Ciesla sums it up by saying that just because they have to face challenges doesn’t mean that they’ll regret their skin colour or nationality. “Everybody has advantages or disadvantages. Only because I’m white, I won’t cry ‘Oh My God, I won’t get work in India’ Why?’ I’m not stupid, I’m not here to waste my time and I’ll not be ashamed. I’m white and proud of whatever background I come from,” she maintains.
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