Foreign actresses move centre-stage in Bollywood

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The Independent Culture

For years they performed as backstage dancers or had minor roles, but foreign actresses are moving centre-stage in India's Hindi-language film industry -- and becoming big names in their own right.

(AFP) -

For years they performed as backstage dancers or had minor roles, but foreign actresses are moving centre-stage in India's Hindi-language film industry - and becoming big names in their own right.

The latest overseas name to take a starring role is Barbara Mori, a Mexican model and former television soap opera actress who makes her Bollywood debut in the upcoming film "Kites" alongside Hrithik Roshan.

Mori, 31, has not been seen on the promotional rounds for the movie, which hits screens in May, but she has been a constant presence in India on posters, the Internet and in the media, particularly gossip columns.

Roshan's father Rakesh, who produced the film, said that "Kites" - about a Latino dancer who falls in love with a con artist - was the first Bollywood movie with a global theme, which meant an actress like Mori was a must.

Brazilian model Giselli Monteiro was unheard of in India until last year, when she took the role of Harleen Kaur in the 2009 hit "Love Aaj Kal" (Love Today and Tomorrow) with Saif Ali Khan.

"People call me 'Love Aaj Kal girl' in India and that is what I am famous for," Monteiro, 21, said.

"I was doing modelling and came to India. I came to know that there was an opening for a foreign-born girl in the film 'Love Aaj Kal' and I went for it.

"To my surprise I was selected as the main lead heroine for the film and not the role for which I had gone to audition."

Director Imtiaz Ali said: "I was looking for a Punjabi girl and Giselli suited the role, so I took her in the film.

"No one knew that she was Brazilian until the film was released. We kept that as a surprise package."

Monteiro, whose dialogue was dubbed, is now learning Hindi in the hope of bagging more roles.

Bollywood was not known for its use of foreign talent, apart from the odd Western backpacker picked up in downtown Mumbai to act as a poorly-paid extra.

But as the industry expands from its domestic base to capture overseas audiences - and moves away from traditional themes and stylised song and dance routines - it is also broadening its horizons with casts.

Foreign actresses who have previously starred in major Bollywood films include Alice Patten, the daughter of Britain's last governor to Hong Kong, Chris Patten, who was in the 2006 hit "Rang De Basanti" (Colour Me Saffron).

Another Aamir Khan film from 2001, "Laagan" (Tax), where locals from a small Indian village take on their colonial rulers at cricket, featured British actress Rachel Shelly.

Tania Zaetta, an Australian who had previously appeared in "Baywatch", featured in "Salaam Namaste" (Greetings) in 2005.

Katrina Kaif, a Hong Kong-born Briton, is the industry's most bankable foreign star - and the most-searched-for Bollywood celebrity on Internet search engine Google.

The former model, who shot to fame in 2007's "Namastey London" (Hello London) starred in two hits last year, "New York" and "Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani" (An Amazing Story of Strange Love).

Her initial appearances saw her voice dubbed, but she now speaks her own dialogues.

Claudia Ciesla, a German model, actress and singer is also trying to break Bollywood.

A chance audition after she came to India on a modelling assignment saw her appear on "Bigg Boss", the local version of the hit reality television show "Big Brother".

"I never knew that I would become this famous in India after entering the 'Bigg Boss' house," she said.

"In public places I have found fans and they want to have my autograph. This all seems so unbelievable and like a dream."

She is now set on staying in Mumbai and learning Hindi in the hope of breaking into films.

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