But a growing number of overseas actors are now looking for something more than just a walk-on part in the popular Hindi-language film industry.
One of them is Alexx (eds: correct) O’Nell, a 30-year-old from Connecticut on the US east coast, who studied theater in his home country before the marketing firm he worked for transferred him to India’s entertainment capital.
That was seven years ago. Since then he’s appeared in a number of South Indian language and Bollywood films, including the 2007 comedy “Loins of Punjab Presents”, a satire on expat Indians set in Mumbai and New Jersey.
He is currently working on a new project, “Joker”, with action hero star Akshay Kumar, which is in production and is due out later this year.
For O’Nell — who’s been a model, appeared on Indian television and married an Indian actress — forging a career in Bollywood has been easier than trying to make his name in Hollywood, even if he always gets to play the foreigner.
“As an Indian, I’d be competing with the best of the best, with everyone in the entire country who wants to be in Indian films,” he told AFP at his home in the Mumbai suburbs.
“If I was in Hollywood, I’d be competing with every American, the best of the best, who wants to be in Hollywood films. So the difference here is, yes, I’m competing for fewer roles with fewer people but in the end it works out.”
O’Nell, though, is a rarity. Firstly, he’s been successful and secondly, he’s a man.
More women have come to India to seek a starring role and many studios regularly use foreign dancers for the set-piece song-and-dance routines that are Bollywood’s trademark.
Many seek to emulate the success of Katrina Kaif, the Hong Kong-born, London-raised former model, who has become a Bollywood A-lister and one of the most-searched-for Indian film stars on the Internet.
Other successful imports include the Mexican model and former television presenter Barbara Mori, who starred alongside Hrithik Roshan in last year’s “Kites”.
The Brazilian model Giselli Monteiro also won plaudits for her role in “Love Aaj Kal” (Love Today Tomorrow) in 2009. Her second film, “Always Kabhi Kabhi”, produced by the superstar actor Shah Rukh Khan, is out on June 17.
Among those breaking through are Tania Zaetta (Australia), Kalki Koechlin (France) and Preeti Desai (Britain).
Proficiency in Hindi is essential for anyone looking to make their mark. Kaif’s dialogue had to be dubbed in her early films but now she voices her own parts.
“The diction is very important when you say dialogues and it is a must for all these heroines who come from abroad to get it right,” said Vidha Chibber, a Hindi tutor who taught Monteiro for “Love Aaj Kal”.
Chibber is also teaching Nargis Fakhri, a US model of Pakistani and Czech descent, who will soon be seen alongside Ranbir Kapoor in “Rockstar”.
For Meenakshi Shedde, a film critic and film festival consultant, Bollywood’s increasing use of foreign talent is a natural progression, as the industry widens its horizons in search of new markets and revenue.
“Indian cinema and Bollywood have been of interest to the world for a century now but I think there’s much greater interest in the last 10 years or so,” she said.
“All the Hollywood major studios have been here for the better part of a century. It’s not like they haven’t realised that India is a big market but their strategy is much more aggressive now.
“So, you find lots more Hollywood films being made in India as Indian productions. Therefore the stars follow.”
Film director Anurag Kashyap, who is married to Kalki Koechlin, said foreigners bring a fresh perspective in front of and behind the camera, particularly at a time when the industry needs new ideas.”
“All the foreigners bring a point of view and sensibility,” said Kashyap, best known for his 2004 film “Black Friday”, about the 1993 bomb blasts in Mumbai that killed more than 250 people.
“A person involved from outside brings an objectivity with them and that makes you see things in a much broader way.”
For O’Nell, there’s an extra incentive that you don’t get in your own country.
“It’s such a colourful array of different industries all within one and that makes it unique. That makes it very, very interesting and even more diverse, I feel, than Hollywood cinema,” he said – Khaleejtimes.com