Saturday, August 1, 2009


A million hellos, my frEEK fellows,

I was recently intrigued by the interesting article, by Expat on the Edge aka a brit journalist living in Mumbai; Naomi Canton. Naomi's article provided an interesting look at the various foreigners that work in Bollywood cinema. She interviewed foreigners of various nationalities that are "recruited" by casting agents at various "foreigner hangouts" such as Cafe Leopold, and are utilised as background fillers, dancers and such for Bollywood. While providing an interesting insight on the good and the not-so-good time faced by these people, the article was though provoking on Bollywood's need, nay obsession with foreign locations, stars - while perhaps subconsicously trying to measure itself with its firangi counterpart Hollywood. While Yashraj films was responsible for exposing us to the lurid locales of Switzerland, where nubile heroines cavorted in see-through chiffon, only to extoll the virtues of vestal virginity a few reels later. More recently Sajid Nadiadwala and Akshay Kumar's vanity project : KAMBAKHT ISHQ got us the chance to see aging Hollywood Lothario Sylvester Stallone and ex-bond girl Denise Richard cavort with Akshay and Kareena; and what a disaster that turned out to be.
This led me to wonder whether Hollywood has ever thrown a glimpse at our shores? have our actors ever been called into participate in their mega-dollar offerings, so join me then my frEEky friends as we dive once again in the murky realms of celluloid to see if whether we desis did make an impact on foreign shores:

a) SABU:

Perhaps, the biggest and yet largely unknown offering from India's shores was Sabu Dastagir (although that last name was an error ) Discovered by director Robert J. Flaherty during a search for the lead in Elephant Boy, 11 year old Selar Shaik Sabu was from a family of elephant vtamers, and his skills were put to apt use in Flaherty's film which was about a boy who magically communicates with elephants. While the film itself received mixed review, there was no doubting Sabu's charisma, as is evident from the clip below:

An instant box-office favourite, Sabu was loved by the audiences, and became a mainstay of all "exotic" films set in the "mysterious" and forbidden eastern realms ( any place outside America!)
one of Sabu's bigger successes was "Jungle Book" based on Rudyard Kipling's classic of the same name:

Sabu went on star in a loosely adapted version of Aladdin called the "Thief of Baghdad" where though playing the lead role, he played second fiddle to the smashing prince (played of course by, a gora)

Roles faded as Sabu's age advanced, and no longer was deemed "cute" enough to play his previous roles, yet he was part of the controversial "Black Narcisuss" which dealt with a nun-in-training being seduced by the prince of a mysterious eastern kingdom that she volunteers to work for.

Plagued in his later years for allegations of homosexuality, Sabu died a rather unfortunate and impoverished death. His legend hitherto unknown in his home shores, needs to be discovered and cherished.

b) Om Puri and Victor Banerjee :

An underrated actor of immense talent, and brother of Amrish Puri ( who played the legendary villain Mola Ram in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) Om Puri made some inroads into Hollywood cinema starting of with a bit cameo in Attenborough's Gandhi, he starred in the cinema adaptation of the " City of Joy " starring Patrick Swayze. Om went on to play the stereotypical Indian mystic in films such as the The Ghost and the Darkness starring Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas and Wolf starring Jack Nicholson. He has also made several appearances in well-meaning but lesser known movies such as "Sam and Me" Om's defining moment in foreign cinema was perhaps "East is East " a low budget british movie, where he played a muslim immigrant, married to a firang trying to keep his two sons rooted Indian culture, and not be swayed by the lure of the West. The movie was a runaway smash and showcased amply Om's acerbic comic talent to the world.

Victor Banerjee, finds himself mentioned here on account of his undoubted acting talent which led to his roles in Merchant Ivory's - 'Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures" and David Lean's A Passage to India

and Roman Polanski's frEEky Bitter Moon. My favourite Victor Banerjee film is perhaps Foreign Body which stars Banerjee in the lead as a bumbling medical student who is mistaken for a high profile medical doctor and becomes the toast of high society London - the film was loosely remade as the The Guru. several years later.

c) Irrfan Khan :

Perhaps the most well known face of India in Hollywood right now, Irrfan announced himself as a global talent in Mira Nair's "The Namesake" , he followed it up with the true-life based "A Might Heart" also starring Angelina Jolie. Irrfan's most well known claim to fame is, you guessed it.. Slumdog Millionaire where as one reviewer put it, he effectively represented the audience in gauging the lead credibility in unbelievable adventures that he undertakes. Irrfan also made a blink-and-miss appearance in Wes Anderson's "The Darjeeling Limited . Irrfan's role was criticised by locals as an attempt to garner western publicity - to which Irrfan responded that his role was as a tribute to Wes, who was one of his favourite directors.
Jai Ho Irrfan,! may your talent never be restricted by geographical boundaries!

Extra frEEKy: Yes, there's Aishwarya Rai's foray in Hollywood, but then this article is about actors - i.e. people who can act!

1 comment:

reevi said...

Eat sawdust Ash.


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