Should Bollywood let Hollywood come calling?
Bollywood stars are said to be going places. But are they?
By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
"Murder" mademoiselle Mallika Sherawat is in Shanghai to star opposite Jackie Chan in Stanley Tong's new film.
Is that reason to rejoice? In Tong's earlier Chan-helmed vehicles like "Supercop" and "Rumble In The Bronx", the leading lady had as much to do as the junior artistes.
After playing the protagonist in "Murder", what prompted Mallika to skip happily to Shanghai for the dubious honour of playing an Indian princess to Chan? She couldn't possibly hope to become an international star by supporting Chan in a bone-cracking actioner.
Or does she believe, like many of her colleagues, that a walk-on part in a foreign film is worth more than lead roles in Indian movies?
If we go by the track record of Bollywood actresses in Hollywood, each time they've excitedly gone into the deep end only to come out feeling shallow.
Nearly 10 years ago, the formidable Shabana Azmi had excitedly trotted off to Hollywood to play a princess in another international yarn. The film was Blake Edwards' "The Return Of The Pink Panther". Shabana was cast as a wicked queen.
Finally, when the film was released, her role was abbreviated to worse than a walk-on part. Though Shabana stood by the film, her fans all over the world felt terribly short-changed.
Shabana was never seen in an international project thereafter. Having learnt from her bitter experience, Aishwarya Rai is going about her international career with utmost care.
She refuses to play glorified walk-on parts or compromise with her star status back home.
In fact she was reportedly offered the role of Helen in "Troy", which she duly turned down. Apparently, she wasn't comfortable with the kissing and nudity.
Unless an actress is specifically cast as an Indian, like Ayesha Dharker in Ismail Merchant's "The Mystic Masseur" or Sharmila Tagore in Mira Nair's "Mississippi Masala", the Indian representation in international cinema would be largely restricted to the male of the species.
Om Puri and Victor Banerjee have played central roles in "East Meets West" and "A Passage To India". But other Indian actors have generally been invited only to be treated like junior artistes in an international set-up.
Kabir Bedi who is talked of in India as an international star is back in Mumbai to do secondary roles in potboilers like "Talaash" and "Rudraksh".
After "Lagaan", Aamir Khan claimed he was being offered meaty roles in Hollywood. But little seems to have happed since then.
Aamir's peers Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan have made it clear that their priorities lie with Bollywood. Two years ago, Hrithik was offered the chance to play Hamlet in Tarsem Singh's film. He turned it down.
Many years ago, the mighty Dilip Kumar had said no to Omar Sharif's role in David Lean's "The Lawrence Of Arabia".
And the supreme superstar Amitabh Bachchan has categorically stated he has no interest in pursuing a career in Hollywood, and so have Preity Zinta, Bipasha Basu and a lot of other stars.
The fact that Mallika has chosen to hop, skip and jump to Shanghai just goes to show that Bollywood is yet to fully gain that autonomous pride, which would make it stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Hollywood.
Perhaps the best and only way for Indian actors to make a name internationally is to work with expatriate directors who would cast them in the Bollywood mould.
Gurinder Chadha's "Bride & Prejudice" is the perfect vehicle for an Indian star to make it abroad. According to Chadha, "Aishwarya is going to erupt on the international scene with 'Bride & Prejudice'."
Will Aishwarya be Bollywood's first international celluloid star? Chances are bright. But it all depends on whether audiences in America are ready to consider her at par with their own actresses.