Chicago girl plays the lead in Bollywood film

By Ashok Easwaran, IANS
11/8/2004 12:00:00 AM
Ever since she can remember, Chicago resident Aleeza Ali has nurtured dreams of being a Bollywood star. Her dreams are finally coming true as her debut film "Ho Jata Hai Pyar" readies for release.

Aleeza calls the film, which has a Chennai director, a "clean love story". She is the only new face in the movie that stars a host of veterans.

"Rati Agnihotri plays my mother, Kiran Kumar my father, Jitendra my father-in-law and Reena Roy, my mother-in-law in the film," Aleeza told IANS in an interview.

The movie is set for release in December.

Aleeza faced the camera with Agnihotri for the inaugural shot. "I was so nervous, facing the camera with Agnihotri in front of 300 people," recalled Aleeza. "But she put me completely at ease."

That was only one of the many impediments she has faced to debut in Bollywood. Aleeza grew up in a Chicago suburb, has no godfather in Hindi filmdom and hails from a conservative Muslim family that was opposed to her film career.

But four years after she won the Miss India-USA contest, Aleeza, who goes by her first name, did two Telugu films.

She has always wanted to act. At the age of 10, while on a visit to her grandparents in Hyderabad, she acted in a televised play that brought her some acclaim. Back in the US, she was involved with dramatics while in high school.

But her career really took off after she won the Miss India-USA contest in 2000. She had graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago and received her parents' grudging permission to go to India for a year to see if she could fulfill her long cherished ambition.

Arriving in Mumbai, she joined a six-month course in acting at Kishore Namit Kapoor's academy of acting, which boasted of having trained stars like Hrithik Roshan and Fardeen Khan.

"We were taught everything - acting, dancing, voice modulation - at the school," said Aleeza, "but when I started doing the rounds of the studios looking for work, no one even gave the school's certificate a second look."

"Every day, I would dress up in my best and stand outside various studios, hoping that someone would call me in. But nothing ever happened."

Aleeza said she was given to having grandiose dreams in her youthful optimism. "I had this idea that I would go to film maker Yash Chopra's office and he would instantly offer me a lead role," she said.

"I did meet his son, Uday. All he said was 'submit your portfolio at the counter. We will call you when we need you'."

It was a tedious wait. "All my classmates (from the acting school) got frustrated and went home. I could survive because I was financially sound."

Eventually, Aleeza got a break in Telugu films, acting in a murder mystery by producer-director Daasri Narayan Rao.

The film, however, presented another set of problems. Although fluent in Urdu, Aleeza had only a passing acquaintance with Telugu. "This film taught me a lot," said Aleeza, "They would help me with mugging the dialogues, mixing it with English words, and shortening the lines for me."

The film did average business at the box office. It was followed by a second Telugu film, a comedy, which did well.

Then came her big break, "Ho Jata Hai Pyar".

Aleeza said that despite her American upbringing, she has become comfortable with the routine of Hindi films. "I am at ease in the dancing scenes. I feel my body has the rhythm. But, I am at my best in the emotional scenes. I do not even need glycerin (for artificial tears) for tearful scenes, and I can do them without rehearsals."

The actresses Aleeza admires are Nargis, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil and Tabu. "I would like to cast myself in the mould of Tabu and act in off-beat films," said Aleeza.