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Canadian lass in Bollywood – Aspiring actress or dreams dashed?

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A dear director friend asked if I could meet with a young Canadian woman contemplating moving to Mumbai to get into acting here. Mostly from the perspective of how I’ve adjusted, my experience with visas, etc.

East weds west - read all about it!

East weds west on the small screen – read all about it!

Now it isn’t completely unheard of.. after all… in a country of a billion plus people there is a ONE new TV serial that actually stars a blonde haired blue eyed new bride “Firangi Bahu.” I’ve been a bahu or daughter-in-law and survived to tell the tale! It isn’t a completely preposterous idea…

But breaking into ‘The Bollywood Biz” ain’t easy… and while I’m no expert, I have watched on the sidelines off and on since 1990 with friends and family (partner) who have struggled and sometimes succeeded in film, TV and stage. Along the way have picked up a few insights and stories behind the stereotypes….

Yet I still felt like such a nasty horrible person dishing out the following reality check dashing starry eyes and hopeful smiles:

  1. Casting Couch – It is live and well and thriving in amchhi Mumbai! Even men aren’t immune… my partner has rebuffed his share of… shall we call them improper propositions? But being a woman, a virtual ‘nobody’ wanting to jump ahead of the queue to stardom? Hmm… might be considered easy pickings! Beyond the casting couch, many well known faces in the industry are rumoured to significantly supplement income with the occasional ahem…  extra curricular activities!
  2. Who you know – Trained in Canada, UK and Australia… So what? Talent, brains, beauty and spirit alone ain’t enough… It is who you know, where you are spotted that catches attention and matters. In other words, who wants to be your vehicle to fame…
  3. Firangi = white, blonde & blue eyed – Sorry… as utterly lovely as you are, being ‘fair’ enough to pass as a firangi (foreigner) essentially translates to the image you see above… With a mixed heritage, one just might manage to make the cut for the utterly repugnant ‘fairness’ cream adverts… Gawd help you if you are a gorgeous Nigerian!
  4. Only models need apply – Not a 6′ foot ex miss world? (Or porn star in the case of Sunny Leone) Not from Brazil, willing to work without complaint for cheap? Who can stand a chance against long leggy scantily clad goddesses!?
  5. Hindi nahi aathi?? Don’t speak Hindi? Um… jaw drops… you really don’t just ‘pick up’ a new language!! Shared the tale of an Australian who invested a full year learning Hindi, dropping the Aussie accent and meeting people… no attempt to go for parts as knew she wasn’t ready.
  6. Paise hai? Have a million dollars kicking around to finance your film? Oh goodie! No? At least enough to bank roll a year or so while working into the “right” social circles, “right” parties alongside auditions after auditions….
  7. Wanna work in theatre?? Time to start rolling off a chair laughing… because while it just might be possible to crack… how on earth will you pay $1,000+ rent let alone everyday expenses when paid maybe $50 for that oh so coveted role?! And it isn’t like you can get a ‘run’ of dates… perhaps a day or two at NCPA this month, then maybe another date at Prithvi a six months from now…

But is it really such a crazy idea? While likely hard work, little pay and small parts fewer and far between… sometimes things just work! In this case, it is too soon to tell. I secretly kinda hope the lovely lass who inspired this rant actually DOES make it despite the odds. Let’s see!!

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  1. I always assumed that it was easier for “firangi” girls to get an entry into Bollywood. Reading the BBC article you put there, makes you feel really sad for the girls especially. I can only imagine how upsetting the casting couch might be – and it may not even guarantee a role! There are success stories (few mixed race girls, few foreign girls), but I am sure there may be so many scary stories from struggling actors and actresses as well 😦

    • It isn’t an easy business – full stop!

      But it is fabulous when something good with quality script, filming, actors, editing does well. I’m still just so super duper proud of Ritesh Batra and team for Lunchbox. Would love to see more films like it being produced that avoid most of the nonsense and are appreciated around the world.

      Alas.. an anomaly in Bollywood!

  2. Bahu ballah hooplah! I think I’m out of the running for anything mentioned in that post 😉 Although…. I’m firangi… and, above all, harangui 😉

  3. Gosh! Bollywood..a wood too crowded and polluted! Eh?

  4. Tim says:

    My hopes and dreams are dashed in the swish of your blog. I figured my past as an extra in the 1998 blockbuster Hal dil pagal Hai would have counted for something…sigh!

  5. Tim says:

    I mean Dil to Pagal Hai…oops. If I can’t even remember the name correctly what chance do I have.

    • For a moment, both my Hindi & Bollywood trivia were stumped! How did you finangle being an extra? Must have been an interesting experience….

      FYI today one actually needs a work permit to ‘officially’ be an extra – Even if ‘volunteering’.

  6. Gururaj says:

    Sad facts of Bollywood – the casting couch, the colour bias, lack of organised opportunity-talent matching. That the success also depends on heavy networking/visibility, money-power, and some dose of luck, would be true for all industries and countries.

  7. paulamcglynn says:

    I think everything you’ve stated is true. It’s also true for Indo-Canadians, not just the blondies, who come thinking they have an advantage but leave after 1-3 months of not meeting anybody.
    However, while I do know several caucasians who have made something of themselves in the industry, the biggest thing they have in common is that none of them depend on acting alone. They either run their own businesses, write, and direct, only getting the chance to act in a decent role or advertisement once or twice a year at the most…
    However, even with other money-making skills the BIGGEST thing is knowing people and figuring out which Bollywood ‘clan’ you can fit into.

    • In this case it was an Indo-Canadian… And completely agree, relying on acting alone is rather challenging. You, of course, are a superlative example of someone who is doing all sorts of amazing things!! 🙂

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