While we were busy fussing over Bollywood stars Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone making their international debuts, one man from down south was quietly dancing his way into Hollywood.
Twenty-six-year-old south Indian film actor Amitash Pradhan is set to appear as the male lead in the latest offering from Duane Adler—the screenwriter and director who has created the five-film and multimillion-dollar Step Up franchise.
Heartbeats, which is expected to release this summer, is set in India. It tells the story of an American hip hop dancer who travels to India and falls in love with our man and our desi dancing style.
Heartbeats marks Pradhan’s entry into the coveted echelons of the film world that is Hollywood. It also makes him the first south Indian film actor to cross over to the other side. The tall, dark and handsome actor may not be a known face in the rest of India yet, but as it happens, Pradhan has already made his debut in the Tamil film industry.
Pradhan was 3 when he first saw Shah Rukh Khan on the screen— wearing a black mask, hat and cape, riding a white horse and singing Baazigar main baazigar. He turned to his mom and instinctively said, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” A little over a decade later, it seems like that little boy’s dream has come true, albeit without the horse and the costume.
The fascination that began with watching Shah Rukh Khan soon became a thriving passion for Pradhan, after he discovered LaserDiscs (LDs) and all the movies he could watch on them. “If I behaved well and did my homework properly, I was allowed to go and pick up an LD of an English movie from the nearby rental store,” he says.
“My mother and I used to make quite an excursion out of it,” he adds.
Coming from a family of film and theatre lovers helped. In fact, Pradhan’s father moved to Chennai 30 years ago, with the dream of becoming an actor. He even landed a few small roles but had to settle as a businessman.
“When I bagged the lead role in Heartbeats, I told my dad that this was not just my dream, but ours coming true,” Pradhan says.
His tryst with acting had begun much earlier, though. He was actively involved in his school theatre group and later did theatre workshops and plays in Chennai. Pradhan says that he’s acted in 25 English plays so far and has directed quite a few as well.
Of course, becoming a film actor was always part of the plan. “I mean, come on, I wanted to be in films since I was goddamn three! I was obsessed with cinema, especially Bollywood. Every second spent doing something else but the acting was torture,” he says.
It was at a wedding that he was spotted by Tamil superstar Dhanush, who offered Pradhan the role of the antagonist in his 2014 film Velaiilla Pattadhari, or more popularly, VIP.
Choosing to make your film debut as a villain may sound like a big gamble. But with Pradhan, it had to happen this way. “After all, my two biggest idols—Shah Rukh and Rajinikanth—also started off in films with negative roles,” the actor laughs.
The journey from being a villain to a hero has been quick for Pradhan. But it was not necessarily an easy one. The audition chance for Heartbeats came unexpectedly when a casting director asked him to send a video of some his dance moves and a few lines from the script.
Getting the dancing right for the audition wasn’t tough, considering he always loved to dance and had a solid background in movements and kinesthetics, thanks to the workshops he used to attend during his theatre days. “I also used to watch Hrithik Roshan’s dance videos, and practise Main Aisa Kyun Hun and Dhoom 2 and all.”
He had to wait for over two weeks for a callback. “Then one fine day, I was asked to fly down to Bombay ASAP. It was only then that I was told who the director of the film was—the guy who made Step Up. I was like, ‘Err, what?!’” Pradhan narrates.
#Repost @adlerduane with @repostapp. From #rehearsals# to #action ・・・ Countless hours of studio sweat = MAGIC on screen! So proud of these two @krysellsworth @amitash12 and everyone in @themovieheartbeats -- coming in 2017, choreographed by @tessandrachavez and @shampagopikrishna999, cinematography by @r_varman, score by @gingger_shankar with original songs from @rocnation. #HappyRepublicDay to my friends in India!
What followed were intense auditions with the choreographers—the Emmy winner Tessandra Chavez and Shampa Gopikrishna, who’s worked on Bajirao Mastani and Ram Leela. “I had to unlearn everything I knew about dancing and learn a whole set of new things from them. The style of dancing in this film is different, and I had to work exceptionally hard to make sure I got it right, and that I looked convincing,” the actor says.
Then there were chemistry tests with the heroine, and of course, more acting auditions. “It was nerve wrecking. I didn’t know whether I was in, whether they were interested in me, nothing,” Pradhan says.
As fate would have it, Shah Rukh Khan came to his rescue once again. “I was stepping out to watch Dilwale when my director called me to the room,” he recalls.
“The entire team of producers and choreographers was present, and they were all looking very solemn. I thought they were going to tell me, ‘thanks for your time, better luck next time’. But Duane said something like, ‘I hope missing your movie for this will be worth it. Welcome to the family. You’re our lead.’ I broke down right there.”
Pradhan feels that he was chosen because the role required a new face. “It’s the story of a boy trying to make it big in Bombay. I remember Mani Ratnam once said that the power of a debutante is that he doesn’t bring any predisposition with him. So a debutante can stay truer to the role than if it was done by a star or an established face that India already knew of. And this role required that.”
The film has already opened in 23 countries in the Middle East and Africa to largely favourable response. The trailer for this release is reminiscent of the characteristic dance sequences and the story arc that we’ve come to associate with the Step Up films.
Plus, it has all the ‘charms’ of India that most western filmmakers love to capture, along with the bling of an Indian wedding. Pradhan, for his part, seems to fit the role well.
Now we just have to wait and watch if he really can step up and deliver the magic.
Follow @htshowbiz for more.