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With stars in their eyes

Parisian landscape artist Armin Carsten, 29, has a stack of Hindi film DVDs that he bought in France - everything from Khel (1991) to Dhai Akshar Prem Ke (2000). Bhairavi Jhaveri writes.

entertainment Updated: Mar 13, 2011 00:51 IST
Bhairavi Jhaveri

Parisian landscape artist Armin Carsten, 29, has a stack of Hindi film DVDs that he bought in France - everything from Khel (1991) to Dhai Akshar Prem Ke (2000).

He's been watching subtitled Bollywood flicks since he was a teenager - not just for the dramatic plots and vibrant colours, but also to study for what is now his dream career. "There is so much to love about Bollywood… I just wish the films were more accessible to non-Indian audiences," says Carsten. "And I think that could happen if the films' casts included international actors."

In keeping with his dream - for himself and the industry - he put his landscaping business in cold storage and moved to Mumbai in December to train as a Bollywood actor at Anupam Kher's acting institute, Actor Prepares. "I looked up the academy online and decided it was exactly what I needed to give me a toehold in this industry," he says.

Carsten is part of a new wave of starry-eyed dreamers heading to Mumbai - this time, not from across the country, but from around the world.

At six-year-old acting school Actor Prepares, the number of foreign students has risen from one every three batches to three per batch; the Stella Adler academy, which opened its Mumbai branch in February, has two foreign students enrolled in its first batch, and Whistling Woods International has an equal number this year.

These include youngsters from Italy, Germany, Japan, Morocco and France - countries that have significant film industries of their own, enabling youngsters to grow up dreaming of seeing their own faces on the big screen.

So what's bringing them to Mumbai? Industry insiders put it down to the growing global reach and influence of Bollywood, and the blurring of boundaries in terms of casting and storylines.

"Bollywood is embracing increasingly global themes and plotlines," says Vikas Bahl, chief creative officer with UTV Motion Pictures. "The lines between commercial and art house cinema are blurring too, which means stories are becoming more universal. This means there is scope for foreign actors in Mumbai."

That has certainly been true of Giselli Monteiro, the Brazilian model cast in a large supporting role, as a demure Sikh girl, in like Love Aaj Kal (2009), and of Brazilian model-turned-actor Moufid Aziz, who is being cast in Imtiaz Ali's next film.

Actor Prepares' Ayako Sekimoto, 25, of Japan, meanwhile, is dreaming not just of starring in Hindi films but also of giving Bollywood a foothold in her home country.

"I love everything about Bollywood, from the fantasy world it creates to the rigorous dance routines," says the former waitress, who travelled to Rajasthan in 2009 to learn folk dance and is now enrolled in the same three-month course as Carsten. "Maybe if I act in a Bollywood film, it will be screened in Tokyo and the music will get on to Japanese music charts."

It's possible, says Bahl. "A story of a youngster who comes back home to India after studying abroad and brings along a Japanese friend is relatable to everyone today, because people from the smallest cities send their kids to study abroad," he adds.

At Subhash Ghai's Whistling Woods International, Italian theatre actor Gabriella Giardina, 19, is learning to emote as part of her two-year acting course, which includes technical classes in production and cinematography and periodic screenings of Hindi films. "I recently watched Taare Zameen Par and it changed my perception of Bollywood cinema," she says. "That film is the kind of project I am hoping to work on."