Hollywood actors

Hollywood actors remain elusive for Indian filmmakers

NEW DELHI — Priyanka Chopra Jonas may be India’s most famous export to Hollywood, but she’s not the only one.

Before her, actors like Amitabh Bachchan of “Gatsby the magnificentand Irrfan Khan of “The Namesake”, and “Life of Pi” have made a name for themselves in international cinema.

Other actors like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Om Puri, Anupam Kher, Shabana Azmi and Naseeruddin Shah also found work abroad.

However, the equation did not work both ways.

Traditional Hollywood actors have rarely played meaty roles in Indian cinema. Actors like Sylvester Stallone, Denise Richards and Sir Ben Kingsley have appeared in mainstream Bollywood films – but mostly cameos.

“Hollywood actors’ exposure to Indian cinema is limited,” director Karthik Subbaraj told Zenger News. His recent directorial venture, the Tamil action thriller “Jagame Thandhiram”, was released on Netflix on June 18.

It stars South Indian superstar Dhanush along with Aishwarya Lekshmi, Kalaiyarasan and Joju George. It also marks the Indian debut of Scottish actor James Cosmo, who plays the antagonist.

Cosmo has starred in projects like “Brave heart(1995), “Troy” (2004) and “game of thrones(2011-2019), among others.

“When I first met James, he was expecting the whole stereotypical Bollywood song and dance routine in my film, but sadly there was none. Still, he loved the character and loved working with us,” Subbaraj said.

“Jagame Thandhiram” tells the story of an ultra-cool nomadic gangster, played by Dhanush, who works with the global mafia and must choose between being allied with them or revolting against them.

“The movie needed a foreign actor because it’s a gangster movie set in a foreign country,” Subbaraj said. “I wanted to try to have someone like Al Pacino or Robert De Niro, because directing them is a long-time dream.

But the process of casting a Hollywood actor in an Indian film turned out to be “tedious” – a process that involved having a casting agent, sending the script to selected actors and finally meeting the actor, if he agrees to do so. .

“I was there in LA for a month to figure out the casting process. Then we hired a casting director and went through the whole process,” he said.

“Every actor and his preparations are the same; there is not much difference. Yet the process of onboarding them for the project is another matter. In India, bringing in Dhanush took a call and a meeting, and he was on board. But the process overseas is very different. (Netflix India, @NetflixIndia/Twitter)

Finally, Subbaraj was forced to move his film’s location to London from New York “due to logistical issues.” But he still wanted a good interpreter.

“We started looking for a British actor in the UK,” he said. “We focused on Cosmo because I liked his performance in ‘Game of Thrones,'” Subbaraj said.

“Every actor and his preparations are the same; there is not much difference. Yet the process of onboarding them for the project is another matter. In India, bringing in Dhanush took a call and a meeting, and he was on board. But the process overseas is very different.

Aishwarya Lekshmi, who plays the female lead in the film, believes that being more inclusive improves a film’s global appeal.

“Being more inclusive and having a wide variety of actors and technicians helps to reach a wider audience,” she told Zenger News.

Film critic and business expert Joginder Tuteja said the reason why Indian directors find it difficult to recruit international talent is because they cannot provide enough global exposure for the actor.

“When an Indian actor is part of an international film, he gets exposure not only in the US or the UK, but also in China, South Asia and even the Middle East,” Tuteja told Zenger News. “However, when an international actor is working in an Indian film, he cannot expect that level of exposure.”

“Jagame Thandhiram” tells the story of an ultra-cool nomadic gangster, played by Dhanush, who works with the global mafia and must choose between being allied with them or revolting against them. (Netflix India, @NetflixIndia/Twitter)

“For example, while the Chinese market for Indian films opened up to Bollywood for a few years, only a few mainstream films like”3 idiots,” “Dangal,” “PACK,” “secret superstarand ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ did well there,” Tuteja said.

“When an Indian film comes out in the US, UK, Europe or the Middle East, it’s mainly the Indian diaspora who watch it.”

Language is another obstacle.

“An actor from India or other countries, who can speak English, can act in English films,” Abhishek Banerjee, actor and casting director, told Zenger News. “But an English-speaking actor can’t do much in Hindi films.”

Banerjee is best known for his roles in the 2018 horror comedy “Street“and the Amazon Prime Videos web show”Paatal Lok(2020). He worked as a casting director for “The Dirty Picture” and “No One Killed Jessica”, aside from “Ok Janu” and “Secret Superstar“.

In addition to the lack of visibility and the language barrier, there are also budgetary constraints.

Often an Indian filmmaker or production house simply cannot afford a top international star.

In the 90s, Pacino earned around $10 million for a movie. De Niro, on the other hand, won until $14 million for some of his mainstream hits like “Ronin” (1998) and “Meet the Parents” (2000).

Aishwarya Lekshmi, who plays the female lead in the film, believes that being more inclusive improves a film’s global appeal. (Netflix India, @NetflixIndia/Twitter)

“After a while, we thought we just didn’t have the budget to sign an international actor,” Subbaraj said. “The overall cost of the film would have been astronomical had we had such mega-actors on board.”

Even if monetary constraints were not a factor, the fact remains that few Indian filmmakers have enough international clout to appeal to an A-lister.

“Even if the film doesn’t do too well at the box office, it should compensate with media coverage. Unfortunately, there aren’t many directors in India who are getting that kind of attention overseas,” Tuteja said.

Banerjee thinks that although Indian filmmakers would like to work with Hollywood stars, no actor would agree to make a film without a good salary, visibility and a well-written part.

“Indian filmmakers need to raise the bar in terms of writing to make their stories appealing,” Banerjee said.

Subbaraj agrees that when Indian films are “diverse and relevant to audiences around the world”, it wouldn’t be difficult to get Hollywood or international movie stars, and collaborations could soon take place with online streaming platforms. and new-age filmmakers. (Netflix India, @NetflixIndia/Twitter)

“There are rare times when an actor says yes to a movie based solely on its story. For example, when Robert De Niro made a guest appearance in the 2019 film”Joker“As Murray Franklin, a talk show host, he did it out of passion, not money,” Banerjee said.

“If the role and the writing suit the actors, the casting process becomes easier.”

Interestingly, when there was a requirement for a foreign actor, Indian films managed to attract some good names. For example, English actress Alice Patten played an important role in “Rank of Basanti(2006), just like Rachel Shelley in the 2001 film “Lagaan”.

Subbaraj agrees that when Indian films are “diverse and relevant to audiences around the world”, it wouldn’t be difficult to get Hollywood or international movie stars, and collaborations could soon take place with online streaming platforms. and new-age filmmakers.

(Editing by Anindita Ghosh and Amrita Das)