The 'foreign' factor in Bolllywood
Times have changed since Anglo-Saxon actors like Tom Alter and Bob Cristo could manage only occasional villainous or character roles in Indian films.
By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
Now, more and more actors, of mixed Indian and foreign parentage, are garnering plum roles for themselves in Bollywood productions.
A few years ago Lisa Ray, who is half-Indian, left Bollywood due to the dearth of comforting opportunities despite delivering a hit in "Kasoor". Settled in England, she played the lead role in Deepa Mehta's "Bollywood/Hollywood" and is now working for Mehta's "River Moon".
Ayesha Shroff (Jackie Shroff's wife) and Amla (married to Telugu star Nagarjuna) are two other half-Indian actresses who could not find a secure place in Hindi films.
The spunky Shroff played the lead opposite Mohnish Behl in F.C. Mehra's "Teri Baahon Mein" (a remake of Brooke Shields' success "The Blue Lagoon") while the lovely Amla was widely praised for her performance opposite Kamal Haasan in the silent film "Pushpak".
The Amir Khan hit "Lagaan" changed the way Hindi cinema looks at white actors. Rachel Shelley, though not a top actress in Britain, became the first truly accepted foreign actress in this film.
In his English-Hindi bi-lingual "The Rising", Khan again pairs with a British actress to play the role of freedom fighter Mangal Pandey, who led a revolt against the British rulers in the 1857 uprising.
The fair-skinned have also found great success in "item" song and dance numbers.
Item girls Yana Gupta and Negar Khan, both foreigners, have carved a niche in this genre of sexy numbers. Katrina Kaif, half-Indian, made her screen debut in Kaizad Gustad's "Boom".
The item girls though have been stereotyped and have not been able to claim meaningful roles for themselves.
Katrina Kaif, better known as Salman Khan's girlfriend, has done South Indian films. In Mumbai she's still to sign any prominent films, though apparently she's all set to play the lead in producer-director Suneel Darshan's next film with Akshay Kumar.
Negar Khan found notoriety recently with her supposedly nude pictures for a Scandinavian magazine. An enterprising producer has been quick to cast Khan in the lead for a thriller called "Hello.... Kaun Hai".
Kabir Bedi's half-Indian son Adam Bedi, who's friendly with Negar Khan in real life, plays her leading man in the film.
Bedi made his low profile debut in Higmanshu Dhulia's "Charas", and will also be seen playing a full-fledged role in Sanjay Jha's "Strings" very soon.
Among the men from this breed who have had success so far as grabbing roles in the Hindi films are concerned is Dino Morea. His Bangalore-settled father holds an Italian citizenship.
Morea said he had no big problem entering Bollywood.
"Though when I was launched in 'Pyar Mein Kabhi Kabhi', I foolishly gave into the supposedly mainstream demand and changed my name to a more conventional one. But with 'Raaz' I reverted to my original name. People find Dino quite sexy," chuckles the actor.
"None of the roles is very conventional. But I certainly don't feel like an outsider."
But does the tentative acceptance of a handful of foreign faces indicate a widespread presence of the foreign factor in Hindi films? Only time will tell.