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What’s the deal with Indian actors’ accent - desi or otherwise - in Hollywood?

hollywood Updated: Oct 20, 2016 08:02 IST
Monika Rawal
Monika Rawal
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Deepika Padukone in a still from her Hollywood debut xXx: The Return of Xander Cage with Vin Diesel.

Remember Priyanka Chopra being trolled for her American accent in US TV series, Quantico? PeeCee’s contemporary, actor Deepika Padukone is winning praise for her Indian accent in the trailer of her Hollywood launch vehicle, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. Does this signify a shift for our actors? No, say industry celebs, as their accent is determined by the character they play in projects in the West.

As we speak to other Indian actors and filmmakers to find out their views, it comes out that accent has got largely to do with the kind of roles and characters that an actor plays.

Actor Anupam Kher, who has acted in films such as The Mistress of Spices, Bend it Like Beckham and Silver Linings Playbook, says it’s wrong to judge actors by their accent. “When you are doing a series, it becomes the requirement, so it is made for the American audience. In fact, I will praise Priyanka’s acting if she has managed to get the accent right. Not many actors can do that. Let’s not sort of discredit her because she has used an accent, rather I credit her for being able to do that for so brilliantly. She is a very big brand ambassador for Indian cinema abroad,” says Kher, adding, “Whatever movies I have done, I play an Indian character based abroad, so I have not really changed my accent because it’ wasn’t required.”

Actor Priyanka Chopra with Hollywood’s Dwayne Johnson in a still from their upcoming film, Baywatch.

Director Homi Adajania, who directed Deepika Padukone in Cocktail feels an actor acquires an accent assigned to the character they are playing. “If you’re playing an Indian character who has adopted a firang accent like all second generation Indians abroad, then use that. If you’re playing an Indian who has landed abroad, then don’t. It’s character-based, that’s all really,” he says.

Ask Richa Chadha, who has just wrapped a film shoot with Demi Moore and Freida Pinto, and she says: “Perhaps Deepika had the allowance of retaining her accent and perhaps Priyanka’s Alex Parish needs to have an American accent in order to seamlessly fit into the American force... Critics have to critique something or they become irrelevant. I wouldn’t care about them if I was in their shoes.”

Another popular Indian face in international cinema, actor Tannishtha Chatterjee — who acted in award-winning British film, Brick Lane — says, “There are people who go to the New York for two years and start imitating an accent. So it’s the cultural hangover most of us (Indians) we have. From England, now we are smitten by America and it’s not just accent but even clothes, music, comedy, films and everything else has become aspirational.”

Tannishtha Chatterjee and Brett Lee in Unindian.

Chatterjee, who also shared screen space with cricketer-actor Brett Lee in Australian film Unindian, recalls how she maintained an Indian accent in the film because her character was such. “International audiences sometimes don’t understand the accents that South Asians might use in a film. So when we are doing big blockbuster kind of films, which have a huge market in America or Britain, many actors try to maintain neutrality or imitate the accent which is closer to the understanding of American or British accents, and even filmmakers prefer that,” she adds.

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