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New Khan on the block

David Light (david@khaleejtimes.com) / 12 July 2012

Meet Wardah Khan, Bollywood’s latest British import

IT’S AN UNEQUIVOCAL fact that meeting somebody new in the UAE prompts this one question, perhaps even before asking their name. It is unfathomable how many times the query “where are you from,” gets uttered on a daily basis in this country, yet with a population dynamic such as the one observed here, it often provokes an interesting response.

Despite a dislike of convention, when model-turned-actress Wardah Khan answered the phone with a strong London accent, her sultry Asiatic looks having previously been observed via her professional portfolio and being in possession of an Arabesque name, the curious draw to inquire about her origins was too strong.

“I’m from Romford. I’m an Essex girl,” came the reply.   

Displaying the brevity that can only come from a true Brit, the 24-year-old’s ancestral tapestry, she conceded, is a little more complex.

“My father is from Saudi Arabia and my mum is Kashmiri-British. Though, I was born in England. Essex and the capital are home,” Wardah explained.

And the Greater London area is all the more lucky to able to call her one of their own. For now the illustrious city can add another international actor to its ranks of famous citizens, as Wardah has just signed her Bollywood debut Marksheet. Scheduled for release early next year, the Rakesh Ranjan Kumar-directed film also stars Jism 2’s Imran Zahid and focuses on the alleged prevalent corruption found in some of India’s top universities regarding the distribution of exam papers in advance to bolster pass rates. 

But how does a young woman from Romford land such a part? And why specifically focus on the Hindi film industry, when British films would arguably be an easier option? Wardah revealed it was her father’s influence that encouraged her to choose this direction from an early age.

“London, especially the further east you go, offers a lot of Bollywood movies in many of the cinemas,” Wardah explained. “From the time I was young my dad took me to the pictures every week to watch one. He is a huge fan. I loved watching them as a kid, but never had an interest in being an actress. I was the outdoorsy type. I wanted to be in the army!

“It was really my dad’s dream for me to try and get into the entertainment industry. He wanted to see me on screen as one of those characters we enjoyed watching together. Once he gave me the push I got the bug. He is the coolest man in the world and has always been my motivation.”

Despite the nudge, Wardah intoned that she was still a very shy person to begin with. In an effort to overcome the nerves, her father suggested trying her hand at modelling in order to get used to being on camera. The plan worked. After a few small shoots her stunning and unconventional looks for the UK market led to spreads in one of the nation’s biggest-selling magazines FHM.

“It gave me a lot of confidence and I think it showed in my work. That’s when the idea of being able to do films took flight.

“It was whilst modelling that I met many Indian directors who were doing projects in England. They said I have a look that can pass for Indian and international, which could work in my favour. The amount of encouragement I received was another push I needed and made the trip to Mumbai for the first time about two years ago.”

After seeing what the city had to offer and betting on the chance her and her father’s dream may be realised, Wardah packed up and moved to the entertainment capital of India by herself soon after visiting.

Since then life has, in her words, been a “dream.” Continuing to model, Wardah carved out a good life for herself and adapted easily, although a few cultural differences took a bit of getting used to.

“Mumbai now feels like my second home. Every city is different, but I love the pace it has. One of the things I noticed when I first got here is that Indian men love beauty. In England men will look at you once, but in Mumbai, they will stop and stare. Some will even turn their car round! It’s respectful though, not uncomfortable.” 

Any language barrier was also not an issue. Growing up speaking Urdu with her mother, Hindi came easily and the now actress will be seen speaking the language throughout Marksheet.

Not a typical ‘masala’ film that usually welcomes foreign stars into the fold with the smallest amount of dialogue possible (not to mention the smallest outfits), Wardah told us why she went for Marksheet and not a song and dance extravaganza.

“I didn’t want to do a silly or boring film to start off my career. I wanted to do something that was realistic and hopefully thought-provoking. I still play a sensual girl though. She is ambitious and just falls in love with the wrong man. It’s a character and movie with a lot of layers.”

Wardah concluded with her thoughts on the future.

“I have this project on my hands and I still can’t believe it. This is my first one and I can’t wait for people to get to know who I am. Once I get through this I am just going to work hard. I am a determined person and I know the value of hard work to get results.”

Her Bollywood inspiration

“Coming from London, I look up to Katrina Kaif. She’s also British and went out to Mumbai by herself as well. I see myself in her because she has worked hard to get to where she is in learning the language and perfecting her talents.”  

Wardah’s tips on looking one’s best

“I’m a very traditional girl. I follow ancient methods like having rosewater for my skin. I eat a lot of essential oils and honey. Honey is one of the best kept secrets. I love Angelina Jolie and it is one of her tips.”

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