Expat Voice: Mumbai and More
Visiting or living in India is an experience that no other country offers, says Mumbai-based Russian actor-dancer Leysan Karimova.
Leysan Karimova first visited India as a backpack traveler in 2016. She was travelling across Asia when a friend invited her to visit Goa. Little did she know that she would end up moving to Mumbai a couple of weeks later.
Born and brought up at Kazan in Russia, 23-year-old actress has appeared in films, television, and dance and music videos. Karimova tells Little India about her life in Mumbai, the difference between India and Russia and more:
I went to Goa while backpacking around Asia two and a half years ago.
It was an interesting experience. It is a completely different life. You would still find similarities between countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, but visiting or living in India is a different experience altogether.
Goa is very different from other Indian cities. It’s not so religious or traditional. There is close proximity to nature. With so many foreigners and expats living in the city, way of life is very open.
Working in Mumbai
I act in films and other projects where a foreign artiste is required. I also dance. One of the big projects that I worked in was as the main lead in a serial on Colors Marathi channel. I have done a Hindi film as well, which will hopefully be released this year. I also did two international films recently.
It was difficult getting into the business. It happened accidentally. My friend’s agent, with whom I work as well now, helped out with different contests and projects. I had not planned on staying in India but it just kind of worked out. For a foreigner, it is tough to get good projects here as language can be a huge barrier. Acting skills obviously matter but besides that, a good knowledge of Hindi is required. There is also competition among foreigners working in the industry.
The way work is managed here is not up to the mark. There is no systematic way of doing things. People come 3-4 hours late. Work gets cancelled at the last minute. Artistes get replaced at the last minute. Having said that, there is still a lot of work and opportunity here.
Life in the ‘City of Dreams’
I was reading the book Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts while touring Asia and really wanted to visit Mumbai. After meeting my friend in Goa, I went to Mumbai and, eventually, moved there. It is completely different from what I had read in the book, maybe because the story is set decades ago.
It was very difficult to adjust here. There’s a huge difference in the mentality of the people of both countries. What may sound sarcastic and funny to me can offend someone else. At times, my way of talking is misunderstood by men as flirting. I have to be careful with what I wear. I have been judged for inviting friends to my house. It was weird to be called a “gori” by people here. Also, the honking of cars is difficult to deal with. There are way too many people in the city.
I love the kind nature of people here. Indians are mostly calm and don’t really fight. In most countries, people don’t care what you’re doing but, here, people are always willing to help. If I am walking down the street and am not sure of the route, people come up to me and ask if I want any help. I have seen this happening only in India.
They have been appreciative of my work as well. I am learning how to speak Hindi. So a lot of people offer help with the language. It’s nice to be made to feel special and to see my efforts being appreciated. I feel free here. I can do anything and be anyone. It’s such a big city. It never stops or sleeps.
The weirdest thing, however, has to be people burping and farting in public. It would be unacceptable in my country. Even if someone accidentally burps or farts, he/she will apologize a hundred times and feel ashamed.
India vs Russia
I think the only similarity between Russia and India would be in terms of wages and standard of living. The earning in both countries is less but the price of living is on the higher side. People in both cities are struggling.
We don’t have arranged marriages in Russia. It is unheard of. There’s no interference from the family either. Here, families are very much involved in the entire process.
Also, in Russia, we have traditional wear but people don’t wear it on a daily basis. Here, people wear traditional clothes all the time, which is amazing. I personally love saris. It is so colorful and bright.
Indians give a lot of importance to family, which is beautiful. There’s a lot of respect and care for elders, unlike in Russia, where people are usually too busy to care.
In Russia, work schedule is strictly followed. If you’re late, your salary gets cut. No last minute demands or requests are entertained.
Train and metro system in Russia is also way more organised. Here, I feel like a warrior entering the battlefield whenever I board a local train.
Only in India
At times, I meet people who give me an important advice and then just disappear from my life. I may meet them only for a few minutes but they end up having a deep impact on my life. I don’t realize its importance immediately. This is something I have experienced only in India.
I started to think more about my future after moving here. I have become more mature as a person. I have also become more nervous and impatient. I think the atmosphere here is like that. When I am in a different city in India, I am more calm and at peace.
If I ever decide to leave India, the warm and helpful behavior of the people here will always be my most cherished memory.
The interview has been condensed and edited.
Expat Voice is regular column on expats in India. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate yourself or another expat for the column.