Actors from India are gradually making inroads into Hollywood with appearances in major projects. With some talent also getting signed by Hollywood agencies, THR profiles a selection of stars to watch.
Following her 1994 Miss World win, Aishwarya Rai turned to acting, landing roles in major Bollywood titles like 2002's Devdas, which was showcased at Cannes. While she was already in the international spotlight as a beauty queen – Julia Roberts hailed her as “the world's most beautiful woman” — Rai featured in titles such as Gurinder Chaddha’s Bride and Prejudice, The Mistress of Spices, The Last Legion and the Steve Martin-starrer Pink Panther 2. Recently, Brad Pitt remarked that he missed the chance to work with her in Troy — which she reportedly turned down.
Iconic superstar Amitabh Bachchan has starred some of Indian filmdom's biggest hits in his illustrious four-decade career. Bachchan also changed the television landscape when he hosted the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millonaire in 2000, a job he continues to do in between his many film projects. International audiences will finally get a glimpse of him in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby in which he will briefly share screen time with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. Commenting on his fleeting role, Bachchan said in a Twitter message, “By the time you look down on your popcorn to pick another morsel, I'd be gone from the film...kinda short service... But with giants of Hollywood...”
One of India's most popular actors, Anil Kapoor has delivered countless memorable performances in his three-decade career. When he was called to audition for Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, Kapoor admitted he hadn't heard of the renowned British director or seen his work. But Kapoor's role in the film as a game show host opened doors to Hollywood, with the actor being signed by ICM soon after. He appeared in the finale season of Fox's 24 and had a brief role in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Kapoor will next feature in Roger Donaldson's financial thriller Cities. He is also prepping an Indian version of 24, for which he obtained the rights via his production banner.
As one of India's most respected actors, Anupam Kher's three decade long career spans over 400 films and numerous plays. Signed to London-based United Agents, Kher has appeared in international projects such as Gurinder Chadha's Bend It Like Beckham, Ang Lee's Lust, Caution and Woody Allen's You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger. This year, Kher is part of a film that is already generating awards buzz — David O Russell's Silver Linings Playbook — in which he plays a therapist and shares some screen time with Robert DeNiro. The part may be small, but Kher is unfazed. “As an actor it has always been very important to keep growing. To me the country of a film's origin is not important. The profile of my part is what matters,” Kher tells THR.
Mumbai-born model Freida Pinto catapulted into the big league with her film debut in Slumdog Millionaire. Shifting base to Los Angeles, Pinto is probably the most high profile talent to cross-over from India to Hollywood. The CAA-repped star has starred in both indie fare (Miral, Trishna) to studio blockbusters (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Immortals).
A graduate from India's National School of Drama, Irrfan Khan can frequently be seen in mainstream and independent Indian cinema (recent titles include the acclaimed Paan Singh Tomar), Khan's roles in Hollywood include everything from the HBO drama InTreatment, to Wes Anderson's Darjeeling Limited, Mira Nair's The Namesake and the recent reboot of The Amazing Spiderman. Repped by Brillstein Entertainment Partners, Khan can currently be seen in Ang Lee's Life of Pi.
Former Miss World and leading actress Priyanka Chopra became the first Bollywood star to be signed to CAA (whose Indian talent roster includes Elizabeth director Shekhar Kapur). Chopra has won critical acclaim this year for her performance as an autistic girl in India's Oscar entry Barfi!. Chopra first made international inroads as a singer after being signed to Universal Music Group/Interscope and Desi Hits! With her music career being guided by Lady Gaga's manager, Troy Carter, Chopra debuted her first single In My City — which features will.i.am — on NFL Network's Thursday Night Football. Says Chopra: “I’m really thrilled to bring my music and a touch of India to America and its football fans.”
One of the year's most acclaimed films, Life of Pi launched 17-year-old Delhi native Suraj Sharma to international stardom as the lead in Ang Lee's adaptation of the best-selling novel by Yann Martel. With no previous acting experience, the teenager was selected from over 3,000 hopefuls who auditioned for the part. Says Lee: “Suraj is Pi. During his audition, he filled the room with emotion, much of which he conveyed simply through his eyes. His natural ability to believe and stay in the world of the story is a rare treasure. He gives an emotional performance in a movie that has the look of a family film, but it's also a movie about big ideas.”
If there's one actor who has regularly worked in both Indian and international cinema for decades, its the acclaimed Om Puri. His brief but memorable cameo in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi opened doors to other projects, including City of Joy (1992), the Jack Nicholson-starrer Wolf (1994), The Ghost and the Darkness (1996) and Charlie Wilson's War (2007), in which he portrayed the late Pakistani general Zia-ul-Haq. Puri currently stars in Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
Regarded as one of the most talented actresses of her generation, Tabu has won accolades in her three decade-long career for roles in both Hindi and South Indian cinema. After starting out in musicals, Tabu delivered one of her most notable performances with 2003's Maqbool, which set Macbeth in the gang lands of central India. Tabu's international profile is currently being raised once again thanks to her role in Ang Lee's Life of Pi.
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