From East to West: Bollywood stars who took the leap

From East to West: Bollywood stars who took the leap

Only a few actors from Hindi cinema's show town have managed to cross over to the West. Khalid Mohamed on what makes them click


Khalid Mohamed

Published: Fri 13 Sep 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 13 Sep 2019, 2:00 AM

Crossover is a convenient word - perhaps to denote the hop-over of popular Bollywood cinema from its homeland to global audiences. That hasn't happened despite Herculean attempts over the decades to reach out to audiences in disparate parts of the world, especially in America where Hollywood products remain the staple ticket to entertainment.
Overseas, Bollywood movies are still patronised essentially by viewers of Asian origin accustomed to the format of songs, dances, a hyper-dramatic form of storytelling and an average running time of at least two hours-plus. Slowly but surely, though, Mumbai's actors are being cast in significant roles in American and, at times, British projects. Three high-calibre heroines - Shabana Azmi, Dimple Kapadia and Priyanka Chopra - have been pencilled in for high-profile international projects, which are currently under the works.

Not surprisingly then, Shabana Azmi, on being selected for the web series Halo, has stated that "at long last we are being offered parts which are colour-neutral", meaning Indian actors are not being ghettoised anymore into the slot of stereotyped brown-skinned characters. Rather, they are being integrated into the plot seamlessly. To be shot in Budapest, the futuristic series has been adapted from a bestselling video game franchise.

Indeed, Halo is being produced by Steven Spielberg, who needs no introduction, and is being directed by Otto Bathurst, who won a BAFTA award for the BBC period crime drama Peaky Blinders (2013 onwards) and helmed a contemporary take on Robin Hood (2018).

Quite piquantly, Spielberg was turned down by Sridevi when he had approached her for Jurassic Park (1995). Reason: the part was far too brief for the heroine who was at her peak in Bollywood at the time. Also, Malayalam cinema's veteran actor Mathar Ramakrishnan Gopakumar couldn't make it for the shoot of The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) because of a delayed work permit.
Earlier, the 'Mogambo' of Indian cinema, Amrish Puri, had collaborated with Spielberg, albeit as a murderous priest who carries out occult rituals in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). Needless to say, the over-the-top adventure flick was banned in India.
Gratifyingly, for Spielberg's Halo, Shabana Azmi will essay a credible character - that of Margaret Parangosky, admiral of the office of Naval Intelligence. In the past, she had featured in English-language enterprises but in roles of quintessentially desi descent. Examples: Madame Sousatzka (1988) co-starring Shirley MacLaine, La Nuit Bengali (1988), City of Joy (1992) and Son of the Pink Panther (1993), besides the TV shows Capital (2015), Banglatown Banquet (2006) and Next of Kin (2018).

Meanwhile, after a script-reading in a Mumbai hotel, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker Christopher Nolan has firmed Dimple Kapadia for Tenet, his next opus after Dunkirk (2017), Inception and The Dark Knight trilogy (2005-12). A confidentiality clause in the contract has prevented the 68-year-old actress from talking about how she landed the role. At most, it has been disclosed that she will be seen "as a 60-year-old lady who has a crucial role in the narrative". Toplining the acting crew, there's Robert Pattinson, who first made an impact as a teenager in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), and went on to become an A-lister with The Twilight Saga (2008-12). Reportedly, a section of Tenet will be picturised in Mumbai's bustling areas around the Gateway of India and the Colaba market. Like it or not, Dimple's elegant, sexagenarian look has been leaked online.

Currently, Deepika Padukone seems to be rebooting her career after her marriage to Ranveer Singh. No more Hollywood plums are coming her way presumably, post the actioner xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017). Meghna Gulzar's Chhapaak and Kabir Khan's 83, a prudent move to return to homefront. By contrast, her peer Priyanka Chopra, after tying the knot with Nick Jonas, has taken to a double-pronged strategy.

Priyanka's The Sky is Pink, co-starring Farhan Akhtar, is ready to be premiered at the Toronto Film Festival next month. Clearly, her first go at global fame with the web series Quantico (2015-18) followed by Baywatch (2017), A Kid Like Jake (2018) and this year's Isn't It Romantic, have made her a worldwide-recognised star. She may not have slayed the competition in Hollywood, but the update is upbeat. Lately, it was announced that she will act in the celebrated director Robert Rodriguez's superhero series, We Can Be Heroes, designed to appeal to the children's segment.

Rodriguez, who belongs to the Quentin Tarantino school of edgy cinema, is most famously known for El Mariachi (1992), From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), Sin City (2005) and Machete (2010). Of course, the impact of Priyanka's inclusion in his series will depend on the length and importance of the role assigned to her. Fingers crossed!

Now, if I were to rewind and enumerate the Mumbai movie stars who have crossed over to make their presence felt globally, the roster would range from yesteryear's I.S. Johar to Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Irrfan Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor, Tabu, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Freida Pinto and Anupam Kher. It's no secret that much depends on the high-power agents who are hired to get them the projects they deserve.

Right at the moment Shabana Azmi, Dimple Kapadia and Priyanka Chopra are the chosen ones. May the force be with them!

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