The melting pot that is Bollywood has always welcomed British actresses. The biggest star of the 1930s Sulochana — the Wildcat of Bombay – was actually the Jewish girl Ruby Myers. Three big silent hits Madhuri (1928), Anarkali (1929) and Indira BA (1929) led to her dominating the field when the talkies arrived with movies such as Indira MA (1934) Anarkali (1935) and Bombay Ki Billi (1936).
Fearless Nadia in the 1940s thrilled a million hearts with movies such as Hunterwali (1935), Punjab Mail (1939), Diamond Queen (1940), Jungle Princess (1942) and many, many more. Her iconic cry of “Hey! Hey! Hey!” and the cracking of her whip came from Australian-born Mary Evans of Scots-Greek parentage, a former circus performer.
Later, of course, Indian cinema played host to British-born Jennifer Kendal, who spent all her life in India. As a child, her father toured the country with a traveling theatre group called Shakespeareana. Jennifer, who married Shashi Kapoor, appeared in classic independent movies such as Shakespeare Wallah, Bombay Talkie and 36 Chowringhee Lane.
Now, a new wave of fair-skinned British-born actresses appears to be making waves in Bollywood. Encouraged both by the success of NRIs such as Dev Patel, Katrina Kaif and Jiah Khan, and pushed by the downturn in the British economy, these actresses are attracted by the variety of opportunities linked to Bollywood — movies, television, advertising, modeling and so on. Lead amongst these is Hazel from Tunbridge Wells, Kent. “While I was backpacking in Thailand after school, I took a role as an extra in a Bollywood film shooting there for fun and that’s how it all started,” she says, “You can lead such a great lifestyle in India. My career is going from strength to strength. I’m almost famous!”
Marijaa Antoinette Andre from London backs up Hazel’s comments – “Since I have been here, I have noticed a huge increase in white girls coming over to work,” she says, “I have friends who have come over from Britain who are getting loads of work here.”
Former Miss UK Lisa Lazarus from Swansea has spent the last few months flying around the world working on Veer with Salman Khan. She is ecstatic about the opportunities that Bollywood provides. “I can’t wait for Veer to come out now,” she says, “To hear people say it’s the next Slumdog Millionaire feels fantastic — and there’s going to be a big premiere in London.”
Bristol arts graduate Florence Brudenell-Bruce provides a love interest for Saif Ali Khan in Love Aaj Kal, tipped as one of the hot movies of the summer. “I play Jo, Saif’s girlfriend,” she explains, “At one point she isn’t sure that she likes him and isn’t dancing but she realizes that she likes him and does the twist.”
Finally, Militza Radmilovic from London also pops up in Veer and has already grabbed her second more substantial Bollywood spot in a horror movie called Fired opposite Rahul Bose. The Katrina Kaif lookalike has naturally been linked to Salman Khan!
With greater internalisation in the world, Bollywood fans can look forward to seeing more British stars in their movies and Hollywood can expect to see the reverse — Hrithik as Jesus of Nazareth anyone?