It’s early days yet but international stars featuring in pivotal roles in Bollywood films is a trend that’s here to stay
Time was when our Hindi films included only a smattering of foreign actors, mainly as background dancers. Now international stars are featuring in prominent roles in Hindi cinema, and the same can be said about our leading actors making waves in the entertainment industry globally.
Casting has always been taken very seriously in Hollywood and now Bollywood is following suit, with not only lead actors being cast perfectly but also character actors. So when a story calls for a foreign actor in a Hindi film, we no longer have pseudo actors with stilted accents playing these roles. Our casting directors make sure they get a foreign actor, which adds to the credibility of the film.
A few years ago, we had Sylvester Stallone and Denise Richards playing roles in Kambakkht Ishq, which starred Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor. Then American actress Sarah Thompson Kane, known for her role in 7th Heaven, Cruel Intentions 2 and Angel played Ranbir Kapoor’s love interest in Prakash Jha’s Raajneeti. And when Mexican actress Barbara Mori starred opposite Hrithik Roshan in Kites, the media went a little crazy. Sir Ben Kingsley was also seen in Teen Patti starring Amitabh Bachchan.
In the recent past too, many well-known Hollywood stars have made their presence felt in Hindi cinema and even indie films. The actor currently creating a huge buzz in Bollywood is Nathan Jones, who plays the villain in the upcoming Tiger Shroff starrer A Flying Jatt.
Popular Australian cricketer Brett Lee also recently played the lead actor in UnIndian opposite Tannishtha Chatterjee, while Kal Penn, Irish actor Sam Keeley and Melissa Leo will soon be seen with Radhika Apte in The Ashram, produced by Guneet Monga. Regardless of nationality, the point is that the lines between entertainment industries are blurring and this sense of inclusion can only be good for the trade and audience at large.
This week, we spoke to casting directors, directors and distributors to get their perspective on this trend. We asked them whether the demand for a foreign actor comes naturally from the filmmaker; whether a director feels that a foreign actor adds value to a film if the script demands it; and we asked distributors if a foreign actor on the poster of a film is a sure-shot way to attract the audience. Here’s what they had to say:
Today cinema is crossing borders, just not Hollywood actors even we are casting people from across the globe. Earlier in our times we used to take every character actor to the schedule whereas today if anyone is shooting in London they cast people from London itself. So the reach has grown. Hollywood stars have been working in the industry for quite some time but so far nothing has clicked. Once a film becomes a hit you will see more people following the trend. And as there is business and money in India, the actors across globe will definitely do these films. A lot of technicians these days are foreign crew so the word is spreading in the West. But it all depends on the content.
Our Indian films are making their mark all over the world and that’s why a lot of foreigners are looking at India even as investors. There is a lot more people who are also ready to invest in Indian films and are coming forward. A lot more collaborations with other countries are also happening. So definitely even the foreign actors are looking forward to working in India. But one can’t sell tickets by simply having them on the poster, the content needs to attract the audience. In the past some big Hollywood stars have worked in Hindi films but most of them tanked whereas having foreigners in films like Queen worked really well because that casting was the demand of the script.
While we were working on the script of A Flying Jatt, I was looking for a strong villain, the kind of villain we had never seen before. At the time, I happened to watch Mad Max: Fury Road and Nathan Jones remained in my thoughts. I was looking for an innocent-looking guy, who would be a superhero so that common people would connect with him, and I waited for years to start this film. When I saw Tiger, I knew he would do justice to the role and, similarly, when I saw Nathan Jones, I knew I wanted him in my film. It didn’t take much time to convince him to play the part.
Thanks to the Internet, we are open to different types of content and we can see a lot of stuff from which we can choose. Just like many Indians are working in Hollywood, many Hollywood actors are now getting into Bollywood. That’s because they are seeing scope here. When we offered Nathan the role, he agreed as soon as he read the script. Since young people are well aware of films made in the West, Jones already had a fan following among them.
Today’s audience is very choosy and demands good content; it doesn’t really matter who features in the film. Another thing that’s changed is that the world is taking notice of Indian cinema. This is no longer restricted to films with big stars; new territories are taking note of good cinema from India. Film festivals too are helping our films travel the world, due to which actors from other countries are seizing opportunities to work here.
Besides, budgets are now able to support casting a foreign actor as and when the script demands it. But that doesn’t mean having a Hollywood star on a movie poster will make the film work. There are instances where a few big Hollywood stars have done Indian films but these have tanked because the content was not good enough. Similarly, when our stars have worked in Hollywood films, only those films which were good worked in India. At the end of the day, it is the content that works.
Ritesh Shah, Writer
In the past few years, Indian cinema has spread its wings and not only to the US, and some of our biggest stars are famous in the West. A lot of people are taking notice of Indian cinema and Indian actors. Some of our films in untapped territories like Japan and China recently witnessed good footfalls because the world is now aware of Indian cinema and they are taking a keen interest in our films. So when you offer a Hollywood star a role in an Indian film, and if it is a good film, they will readily accept it. But casting a foreigner will only do justice if the script demands it. In the past few years, we have seen Hollywood stars doing Indian films but these movies did not click. The moment a film becomes a blockbuster, it will start a trend. Everyone is still experimenting and it is yet to catch on.
I believe we are in the best phase of Indian cinema, where we are not restricted to a place, city or country when it comes to casting. Remo sir had conceived a larger-than-life villain whom he couldn’t find in India and so he thought of a Hollywood actor because it is easy to find someone who is 7 feet tall. I believe the lines between Hollywood and Bollywood are now blurring.
Another important aspect is that the West is closely observing us and our content. That’s why we see quite a few Indian actors doing Hollywood films, including some of their best directors who are making films with Indians. So when Indian directors have something good to offer them, they are seizing the opportunity. It’s a nice change.
Whether we need to cast someone like Tom Cruise or Sylvester Stallone is dictated purely by the director and the script. It is no longer very difficult to get a foreign actor on board if the script is outstanding. Also, today’s audience wants cinema that is credible, so you can’t cast actors with stilted accents. Also, the Indian film industry is becoming increasingly famous and with a few films breaking the language barrier, I believe a lot of Hollywood and other actors are looking forward to working in India. It’s a very healthy change.
The reason we have begun to cast foreign actors in our films is that things are changing, including our scripts. It is not easy to cast actors, especially from Hollywood, because they have stringent rules, and their approach to work is very different from ours. That’s why it is interesting that we are still casting people from all over world, like we did in Baby and now in Dishoom, where a few characters were cast from Abu Dhabi. In The Ashram, the script required foreign actors, so Melissa Leo and Kal Penn came on board.
With Indian cinema making a mark at film festivals overseas, people are becoming increasingly aware of our cinema, not just ‘art house’ cinema but also commercial cinema, which now has good content as well as mass appeal. Also, earlier, we did not cast foreign actors because neither did our scripts require it nor did we have the budgets for it.
Today, when we shoot in London, we cast actors from London because your film needs to be authentic to pass the test with the audience. I believe it is a good change and with some brilliant films happening, the trend will strengthen. Films like Queen and English Vinglish didn’t have big Hollywood stars but they did have foreign actors.
Casting has become extremely important in Indian cinema. We are now casting based on the demands of the script, not necessarily on the basis of what we think will sell. The influx of actors from overseas shows that roles are becoming more and more diverse. Similarly, in the West, more and more Indian actors are getting opportunities because of the diverse nature of roles now being written. This is a good thing and should be encouraged.
With good content being in demand, people are looking for foreign actors too to suit their scripts. In the past, we have had many films where the protagonist misses his or her country and returns to India to find their love but today such formulaic films do not work. That’s why we have unique films like Queen, where the girl embarks on her honeymoon alone and become friends with foreigners. There is no forced love angle, that’s reality and that’s what the audience demands today.
If a script demands a foreign actor or a famous Hollywood actor, the filmmaker has to cast accordingly. On whether having a foreign actor on a movie poster sells more tickets, the answer is ‘no’. Nothing attracts the audience to cinemas unless they love the trailer, which seems to be the case with A Flying Jatt, where people are looking forward to watching Tiger Shroff battling with Nathan Jones.
It is a bit different in India when it comes to an internationally famous face on the poster of a film. Patrons still prefer A-listers Indian stars along with renowned international stars on a poster rather than having just international faces.
It’s hard to sell an Indian film on the name of only international stars in India. Upcoming film UnIndian can be an exception here but you have to have Akshay Kumar on the poster of Kambakkht Ishq and Amitabh Bachchan on Teen Patti even though stars like Sylvester Stallone and Sir Ben Kingsley were present in the films respectively.
The audience then connects better to a film and is curious about international films that have Indian actors in meaty roles like Irrfan in Life Of Pi and Jurassic World or cameos like Anil Kapoor in Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Anupam Kher in Silver Linings Playbook to name a few.
When Indians feature in Hollywood films and vice-versa, it only helps the marketing team promote the film. Whether a movie works or not depends purely on content. The trailer of A Flying Jatt looks promising and the action seems to be outstanding. Also, kids love the superhero concept. But the kids and the audience should understand the language and connect with the character.
When a Hollywood star features in an Indian film, he or she attracts only those who are aware of these stars. On the other hand, the Indian masses watch only Bollywood stars and prefer watching commercial films. Hence I don’t think it makes a difference. At the end of the day, if a film is good, it works. The film should be entertaining and connect with the audience. Sure, Hollywood films do good business in India these days but I don’t think international stars make a difference to our cinema when they feature in our films, unless the content is outstanding.
Having a Hollywood star on a poster will not help a Hindi film. To be very honest, most people in B and C centres will not recognise the star. So a foreign star cannot bring the audience to cinemas unless it’s someone like Tom Cruise. And above all else, the trailer and first look should impress the audience. Many of our Indian stars have worked in Hollywood films but that didn’t do anything for the business of those films in India, unless they were really good films.
Only big stars work in India. So you can’t attract any audience only by having Hollywood celebrities in your film. Audience only comes to watch a Salman Khan film and the same holds true for other superstars, otherwise if the story is too good it takes a week for a film to grow with word of mouth publicity. People will watch A Flying Jatt for Tiger Shroff and in that they might also like Nathan Jones but even Mad Max: Fury Road fans will not watch it only for him (Jones).