They strut purposefully down the street in pouring rain, singing ‘Tujhe dekha toh yeh jaana sanam’ from the iconic film Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. And they turn more heads than you’d expect.
Because these aren’t the filmi tapori types. Well, they are filmi, but Johan Bartoli and Hampus Bergqvist are also Swedish, sing with an endearing enthusiasm that makes their accented Hindi sound even more unfamiliar, and grin through it all as if they are having the time of their lives.
Which they are. Bartoli, 26, and Bergqvist, 25, have been in Mumbai nine months, chasing a very specific Bollywood dream (they don’t just want to be extras, they’re hoping to be so persistent and so convincing that they eventually win roles as second leads).
Right now, they’re best known for a series of videos that show them learning the ropes in their new home. It’s called 2 Foreigners in Bollywood and it is made up of clips and photographs of their misadventures in Mumbai, shot on their iPhones and posted on Instagram and Facebook.
“Struggle is fun and that’s all we’re trying to show,” says Bartoli. (In an aside, they share a two-bedroom rental home in the prime suburb of Andheri West with a fellow aspirer, and they’re the first to admit that their struggle is not typical, coming as it does with an exchange rate of eight rupees to each of their Swedish Krona.)
On this rainy weekday in the Mumbai suburb of Lokhandwala — that mecca for all Bollywood strugglers — they demonstrate some of what they’ve learnt so far.
Bergqvist puts on a stern expression, shoots out his right hand and begins to cross the road. They both burst into giggles on the other side; they still can’t believe that it works every time.
They stop at a chai stall next, and cause more startled glances. “Bhaiyya, kaise ho!! Kaisaaa rahaaa aapka din!?’ Bartoli booms. They’ve been told this is the best way to get good service from a chaiwala or paanwala.
Besides their actual Hindi lessons, they get most of their dope on how to cope from their flatmate, 25-year-old Pratap Singh. In most of their videos, you’ll see him play the desi guy.
Incidentally, their shenanigans now have 4 lakh likes on Facebook and over 29,000 followers on Instagram. And while the Swedes might seem like two youngsters out for a joyride, there’s an underlying seriousness to their Bollywood dreams that comes as another surprise.
They say they became hooked to Hindi films as teens, with DDLJ sparking that love affair. “The film was big in Sweden and we saw it years after it came out, but the story was so intense. The plot kept us at the edge of our seats throughout,” says Bergqvist . “Even when we re-watched it for the umpteenth time at Maratha Mandir on our arrival in Mumbai, we couldn’t wait for Simran and Raj to be together.”
DDLJ star Shah Rukh Khan remains Bartoli’s favourite; Bergqvist’s is Salman. “We argue about who’s better,” he says, laughing. “But we watched [Salman starrer] Sultan recently and enjoyed it so much that we’re going to insist our parents back home watch it too.”
Both actors have fans around the world, so why did these two head to Mumbai? Bartoli and Bergqvist stumble over each other’s words as they try and explain exactly what’s driven them to move here.
“Once we had graduated in business management, jobs in banking and finance took a backseat. Our parents were shocked with our decision but we’ve always dreamt of acting in Bollywood,” Bergqvist says. “This is exactly the life we were wishing for,” adds Bartoli. “Sweden was calm and getting too comfortable,” Bergqvist interjects. “This place is crazy and gets crazier every day. It’s in your face, the pace is maddening on the one hand but there’s always the sea that is still. Things are always moving — people, trains, time...”
Bergqvist has been to India before; he travelled through 11 cities including Mumbai, Bangalore and Goa for two months by himself at 19. But this is Bartoli’s first encounter with India. They’ve each had four bouts of food poisoning since they arrived but say that nothing will deter them from eating their favourites -- tapri chai, pani-puri, chicken thalis and vada pavs.
“Our parents are scared we’re never going back,” says Bartoli. “And for now, we don’t want to. The day we stop having fun, we’ll pack up and leave.”
So far, there is plenty of fun being had. The duo has been to most of the touristy Mumbai spots — the sea link, Marine Drive etc. “But we love Dharavi the most,” says Bartoli. “We’ve been there thrice and tried to beat the master of carom, played cricket and gone gymming there. We plan to capture some of these experiences in upcoming videos.”
Unlike many struggling actors/models, they have not been exploited, cheated or gone hungry, they admit. “We know [Bollywood star] Akshay Kumar worked as a chef and a waiter, and Nawazuddin Siddique was a chemist, and we’re glad we’ve not had to sleep on benches at a train station,” says Bergqvist.
They’ve also had quite a bit more success than most desi strugglers. So far, the duo have appeared in about 14 TV commercials, including ads for Volkswagen and Kohler, and featured in small and big-budget movies, including bit parts they can’t discuss in the upcoming Rustom (starring Akshay Kumar) and Banjo, with Riteish Deshmukh.
Not a bad start for boys who can’t really sing and admit they don’t dance... yet.