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Brits set sail for Mumbai

As Bollywood becomes a phenomenon comparable with chicken tikka masala, UK artists use it as a springboard.

india Updated: Feb 12, 2006 05:05 IST

As Bollywood intensifies its efforts to go global, producing films with a crossover appeal and stepping up its Oscar campaigns, a number of British actors are signing up for substantial roles in big-ticket Hindi films.

Bollywood films are regularly screened at theatres like the Odeon and Empire at Leicester Square; one cinema in Birmingham exclusively screens Hindi films; DJs play Bollywood songs at posh nightclubs like Aura and Tramp — it is, in short, a phenomenon comparable with chicken tikka masala.

The hero worship of Indian stars by the diaspora in England has made the enormous attraction of Bollywood evident to British actors. It is not only unknowns that have joined the line-up. When Toby Stephens accepted the role of Captain William Gordon in Mangal Pandey (The Rising), he already had a starring role in the Bond film, Die Another Day, under his belt.

“What makes me proud is that Britain has given Bollywood its international fame,” said director Mahesh Bhatt, who judged the Bollywood Star competition, hosted by Britain’s Channel 4 to select an actor for Hindi films, two years ago. Rupak Mann won the contest, but the significant thing was that a huge number of contestants were British youngsters.

To facilitate the exchange, the British government set up film collaboration ventures. Also, British culture secretary Tessa Jowell led a delegation to encourage India to make more films in her country and use British talent. Mangal Pandey (The Rising) was a big product of this co-operation.

Most recently, British actress Alice Patten made her mark as the female lead in Rang De Basanti. After its release in England, Patten, thus far a little-known unknown theatre artist, made headlines in the British media. Rang De Basanti, she says, “was a step in the right direction”.

The closing gap is extending to the West End and that could mean more British actors jetting to Mumbai.

While Bombay Dreams, which had AR Rahman collaborating with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, created interest in Bollywood, The Far Pavilions is going further. Producer Michael Ward has finished the script for the Indian version, and Amol Palekar is likely to direct it.

This version will have five actors from India and four from Britain. Ben Kinglsey is the most wanted actor for the role of Khan Saheb, played by Kabir Bedi in the West End version. MM Kaye’s novel will finally be turned into a Bollywood film, and Ward has already found keen interest from British actors for this venture.

First Published: Feb 12, 2006 05:05 IST