Lights, Camera, Action
Indian Candians are making a beeline for Bollywood.
Till a few years ago, it was an entity that was ignored at best and ridiculed at worst. For Canadian youngsters of Indian origin, the Bollywood cauldron with its bubbling masala mix of story, song and dance routine was their parents’ nostalgic link with their distant country. But not any more. FRor many Indian Canadian youth, the Indian film industry holds the potential of a career.
The measure of success achieved by Ruby Bhatia and recently Lisa Ray (both of whom are from Canada) in Indian television and films have fuelled the hopes of these youngsters who feel that hard work, a generous stroke of luck and a good break will catapult them on the big screen. That most of them cannot speak good Hindi, leave alone read and write it is hardly a deterrent.
One can work around the language issue, says aspiring actress Tricia Bhim, “by writing your dialogues in English and get the accent right.”
What is important, opines Dr Ruby Dhalla, “is to have a passion for acting and the determination to pursue this passion.”
It is this passion for the “magical world” of films that has made Dr Dhalla put her medical career on hold. Her debut Hindi film Kyon Kisliye, shot entirely in Canada, is slated for an international release soon. Dhalla’s foray into the glam world began with the Miss India Canada contest in 1993 where she bagged the first runner up title. Ruby Bhatia won the crown that year. While Bhatia headed to India for a career in films, Dhalla went to the university to pursue a degree in science and capped it with one in medicine. However, even as she was busy studying human anatomy, she continued her affair with modeling and emceeing.
“Often I would run into people from the Hindi film industry, who would say that I should get into films,” she says.
After giving it a serious thought (and a couple of years), she finally went to Mumbai in 1999 armed only with passion and determination. She stayed there for six months during which she met filmmakers, compered shows for Provogue and took up modeling assignments. But even as Bollywood beckoned, she decided to return to Canada not only because “I was missing my family,” but also because she wanted to make a place for herself in the North American mainstream i.e. Hollywood.
And it was in the middle of her busy practice at her chiropractic clinic that the offer to star in a lead role in the Hindi film Kyon Kisliye came her way. So, she took off for three months from the clinic.
Ruby Dhalla anchored to Canada while pursuing her dream, but three Indo-Canadians who had also embarked on a Bollywood journey have stayed on. Ruby Bhatia, Vekeana Dhillon and Vikram Dhillon decided to pursue their career path in India and while Ruby has become a successful television star, Vikram and Vekeana too got a break in television, and nurse their ambitions of getting on the big screen.
Not everyone is geared for roughing out in Bollywood and prefer to wage their battle for a foothold from Canada. “I have always been interested in Bollywood and someday I would like to be a full-fledged actress even though right now I am focusing on dancing and choreography,” says Radha Ramdhin. Having danced with lead actresses from Bollywood in films shot in Canada, Radha says, right now she is setting out to get a university degree, “acting will always be a part of my life.”
Toronto-based Sunny Dhillon harbors ambitions of striking it in filmdom. Dhillon, who was born in India but raised in Canada, says he is “proud of his roots” and it is this invisible bond that draws him to Bollywood.
He played the role of Devdas in a stage musical titled Tribute to Devdas (itself a tribute to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Devdas) and says he is “passionate” about acting but would rather wait for a meaty role instead of taking up any “itsy-bitsy” role offered by directors who come to Canada to shoot Hindi films. Though pursuing a fulltime job, Dhillon says he would chuck it all up if he gets a good offer. “My dream is that one day I will get noticed.”
Tricia Bhim, who paired up with Dhillon as Paro in the musical says she does not speak Hindi at all and had not given a serious thought to acting as a career, but the role of Paro has changed all that. This young model says, “I will always pursue acting and if I get an opportunity I will take it.”
For Divya Kumar, a Toronto-based choreographer who conceived and directed the musical Tribute To Devdas, this is a hreflection of the growing interest among Indo-Canadian youth in Bollywood. “A lot of youth born here (Canada) are so much into Bollywood, in fact, more than people in India. Teenagers are very interested,” he says.
One of the contributory factors for this trend is that Indian film industry has improved in terms of technicians, locations and scripts as well as songs and dances. Kumar, who divides his time between Mumbai and Toronto runs the Bollywood dance school and at any given point of time has between 30 to 50 students trying to master the matkas and jhatkas. His students have danced in some of the Hindi films that have been shot in Canada.
Perhaps one of the first organizations to foresee this trend and capitalize on it is the South Asian Modeling Agency set up by a couple Mala and Ray Singh. They run an acting school too under SAMA’s aegis and almost all the leading models, who have landed some parts in the Bollywood films shot in Canada have been associated with SAMA in one way or another. Tricia was crowned Miss SAMA, Radha and Ruby have also worked closely with SAMA.
Says Mala, “We are creating a data bank here which creates a pool for directors and producers so that they bring only the main cast and use local talent. We saw the trend way back in 1997 and set up the first ever acting and modeling agency to train an elite group of people to cater to these needs.”
Many films shot in Canada have featured SAMA models in supportive roles. Nearly 2000 models are registered with SAMA and Mala says that many are interested in getting onto the Bollywood bandwagon.
One of the main reasons for the growing interest in Bollywood, according to Mala, is that films are a way of keeping in touch with “one’s culture without getting regimented in religion.” Also, she says, long persisting taboos on modeling and acting are disappearing and now they are being viewed as respectable glamorous professions by aspiring starlets as well as their parents.
Agreeing with Mala, Bee Ramdhin (Radha Ramdhin’s mother) says, “If a child is eager to pursue a profession having supportive parents helps them excel and will make their education more stronger.” A view echoed by Tricia and Ruby who say that it was their mothers who encouraged them walk this glam path. Looks like Tom Hanks’ and Julia Roberts of the world, will have to share space with Shahrukhs and Preity Zintas as role models for many Indian Canadian youth.