HT Brunch Cover Story: Meet three actors who have made their international debuts this year but you might not have heard of…yet!
These Bollywood aspirants have made a mark in foreign cinema even before becoming famous back home!Updated: Nov 23, 2019 23:40 IST
Frieda Pinto became an international sensation almost overnight post the release of Slumdog Millionaire (2008). But before Danny Boyle found his Latika in the Malad girl, Pinto was just another model auditioning for Bollywood films. Sometimes, it needs international validation to acknowledge local talent.
Today, with the international spotlight on South Asian artists, Indian actors are being seen in international movies like never before. And one need not be ‘Bollywood approved’ to land such roles. Also, unlike earlier on, where international films headlined by Indian/South Asian actors only catered to the diaspora audience, now Indian-origin actors are playing diverse, often pivotal roles, and even non-ethnically defined characters, in mainstream Hollywood and on American television thanks to colour-blind castings.
Be it Priyanka Chopra’s ground-breaking Alex Parrish in Quantico or more recently, Himesh Patel’s turn as the leading man in Danny Boyle’s rom-com Yesterday, Indian-origin actors today are playing characters that are not written as Indians, their ethnicity is irrelevant to the plot. This is a tectonic shift from the Indian stereotypes that populated mainstream movies in the West even a decade back.
Behind this ‘inclusivity’ tag is of course also a business model that’s been instrumental in making brown the new black. India and Indians have become the major consumers of international films and it always helps if you have local representation.
Cut to today. We are at the shoot at an Andheri studio. The room is abuzz with banter from three actors in the house – none of them a pro at photoshoots. To any outsider it would seem almost as if we have rounded up three college buddies for a shoot. But this is, in fact, the first time the trio is meeting and apart from being actors the only thing they have in common is that they have all quietly made their international debuts in 2019.
Meet Amruta Sant, who made her Hollywood debut alongside Dhanush in The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir (2018); Aadar Malik, the lone actor in a family of Bollywood musicians who landed the lead role in the French movie, Sun (2019); and Prashantt Guptha, the NRI who came to Mumbai with the sole dream to become a Bollywood hero but has ended up playing the lead in the upcoming Hollywood Christmas movie, A New Christmas. Chances are, you have never even heard of these guys before!
Drama queen: Theatre in Mumbai got this actress her Hollywood break
Amruta Sant, 34
She has just made her international debut, and actor Amruta Sant, 34, has 10 years’ experience in Mumbai’s theatre circuit. In fact, the film in which she stepped onto the world screen made more of a noise for being southern star Dhanush’s first Hollywood movie!
But Amruta plays a big role in Canadian director Ken Scott’s The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir (2019 India release). “Who’d believe that I landed this project right here in Mumbai, at Prithvi Theatre?” Amruta laughs, and adds: “When I started off, I auditioned for bit roles in movies, serials and ad films. If you were lucky, they gave you a reason for the rejection. I’d be told I’m too short or I don’t have the right body type, or that my features would only land me offers of the maid or cook.”
“If you are not already a bankable star and can show them on paper that you are profitable to them, to go there [to Hollywood] and land a role is very difficult ”
Then one of the assistants of Sanjeet Singh, the casting director of Fakir, saw her in Makarand Deshpande’s play Time Boy and recommended her for an audition. “It was unlike any audition I’ve been to. It was a quiet room and I was given absolute freedom to do my thing. The focus was on acting, not the paraphernalia. After I was selected, there were 10 make-up rehearsals!” she recalls.
Amruta who is just back from a recce of LA, is better equipped to give Hollywood another shot. “It’s not an easy space for Indian actors to break through. But there is tremendous interest there in making films with Indian actors. However, more than inclusivity, business is driving this trend. India, with its huge population, is a great market for Hollywood. To tap this audience they want more Indian faces in their movies.”
“There is [suddenly] a tremendous interest in Hollywood to make films with Indian actors”
Amruta is planning to go back again early next year, but cautions: “If you are not already a bankable star and can show them on paper that you are profitable to them, to go there and land a role is technically very difficult thanks to the visa policies. But that said, many Hollywood films cast in India. If you bag a project here, getting a work permit there is easier.”
Desi to boot: The actor is all set to play protagonist in a mainstream Christmas movie
Prashantt Guptha, 37
A rich Indian kid living in New York grows up watching Amitabh Bachchan and decides to become a Bollywood hero, leaving his family and family business behind. A decade and a handful of roles later, he finally gets to play the hero – in a Hollywood movie!
Prashantt Guptha who last played a young politician in The Tashkent Files (2019) is now the male lead in Daniel Tenenbaum’s upcoming flick, A New Christmas.
“My first audition was for a Nagesh Kukunoor film was the worst...I placed too much importance on it, thinking it would make my career instantly”
He’s also the co-creator of the $500,000 film, so his journey in Hollywood is somewhat different. “Creating an opportunity for yourself as an actor and producer, and successfully selling it is a much harder feat than simply landing a break,” he says.
But Hollywood never featured in his dreams. Remembering his first years in Bollywood Prashantt says: “I landed in Mumbai in 2007 and had a return ticket for two months later. I thought it was enough time to conquer Bollywood!”
“My first audition was for a Nagesh Kukunoor film. It was the worst of my life. I placed too much importance on it, thinking if I got the part it would make my career instantly. Had I cared a little less I’d have delivered my lines smoothly.”
“Creating an opportunity for yourself as an actor and producer, and successfully selling it is a much harder feat than simply landing a break”
With content-driven entertainment growing in India and a focus on inclusivity in Hollywood, actors like Prashantt could succeed anywhere. “If I had to choose, it would be India. I invested my most precious years here and deserve a phenomenal ROI. After that, I’d head to Hollywood. Why? Better infrastructure, cleaner air and a greater civic sense! As a multifaceted artiste, as an Indian and American, it is only fitting that I make it in both territories.”
Rising with the sun: After bagging a role in a French film, the actor is hopeful of making it in Hollywood too
Aadar malik, 32
His family of musicians has been part of the Hindi film industry for three generations. But Aadar Malik chose to act. The 32-year-old has just made his proper international debut playing the lead in a mainstream French movie, Sun, directed by Jonathan Desoindre. “I am an Indian guy, speaking English, in a French movie. Just how surreal is that!” laughs Aadar who has been a popular face in the Mumbai theatre circuit but is more popular for improv stand-ups and musicals. “First it was my family name and now it is my identity as a stand-up comic… people here hardly consider me a serious actor!”
“I had serious stage fright. To instill confidence in me, my parents enrolled me in an acting class and I realised I was not shy when I was acting!”
But acting happened by chance. “I had formal training in music while growing up, but I had serious stage fright. To instill confidence in me, my parents enrolled me in an acting class. Strangely, I realised that I was not shy when I was acting!”
Aadar’s been attending casting calls for Bollywood movies, but it was the audition for a French movie that he managed to crack! Perhaps it was because his family background and his standup career weren’t known to the French team, he muses. So there were no preconceived notions.
Internationally, Indian actors are becoming hot. “India’s population and the Indian population in America make India important. People like Hasan Minhaj cater to basically an Indian audience in a mainstream US chat show. Indians in the US have more money than any other community,” he says.
“India’s population and the Indian population in America make India important”
The actor intends to give Hollywood a shot now, especially because he will be able to start with a clean slate and position himself as a serious actor: “I’ll have to go to LA and stay there. Unless you are there you can’t land a job in Hollywood.The first and most important thing is to get a manager and an agent there.Unless that happens, you don’t have a real shot at Hollywood. Then you are just there for a vacation!”
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From HT Brunch, November 24, 2019
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