As film fans we’re all well aware of where our favourite actors and actresses have come from. Whether it’s a humble family home in the country or a stylish apartment in the middle of a city, film buffs can tell you just about everything about the lives of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Sometimes it’s only once an autobiography is released or once they have made an appearance on a chat show sofa that we realise just how much effort has gone into making it onto the Walk of Fame or the Academy Award nomination list; but for other actors the journey to Hollywood is even longer.
The Indian movie scene, Bollywood – as it is widely known throughout the world – is one of the biggest in the world, contributing around 1,500 movies every year which is just under half of the global annual releases, yet not many of the amazing actors and actresses have made it to Hollywood. Sure, you can find out plenty and catch up on their early appearances on streaming and download sites like Erosnow, but you might not be too familiar with them in the same way that we are with the likes of Leonardo Di Caprio, Johnny Depp, Cameron Diaz and Angelina Jolie.
Despite the fact that many film fans won’t be able to instantly reel off the names of some of the biggest stars to have made the leap from Bollywood to Hollywood, that doesn’t mean that the light bulb won’t come on when you talk about “that actor who played so and so in…”
For instance, who could overlook the fact that one of the most photographed actresses at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival was in fact Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Despite having starred in many films in India and made numerous television and magazine appearances, she’s not what you would call one of the ‘stars’ of Hollywood. However, she was in fact offered a role opposite Brad Pitt in Troy, only to (allegedly) turn down the part because of its “explicit scenes.” You have to wonder how big a star she would be today if she had taken on the role.
One of the most popular films of the past decade, Slumdog Millionaire, directed by Danny Boyle and released in 2008, which was awarded eight Oscars, was the story of a young man from Mumbai who appeared on the Indian equivalent of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The film was so successful that stars including Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan and Freida Pinto were given their big breaks in Hollywood, going on to appear in numerous films that were successful both in India and abroad, (despite the film not being strictly a Bollywood creation). Even the singer of the soundtrack, AR Rahman, picked up an Oscar for Best Original Song for his collaboration with the Pussycat Dolls on “Jai Ho.”
Not all of the Bollywood stars have made it big thanks to Slumdog, however. The likes of Shahrukh Khan, who has been appearing in movies since the 1992 release of Deewana, have been huge around India for many years, having been credited with 86 appearances on the small and silver screen. In fact, Khan is seen as so big a star that he is referred to as the “Tom Cruise of India”, having been chosen ahead of the Mission Impossible and Top Gun star in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), with Cruise initially touted as the Directors’ first choice for the starring role.
Freida Pinto, as mentioned briefly earlier, has arguably appeared in one of the biggest movies of the past few years taking on the role of Caroline in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Another female Bollywood star to have made it big is Shilpa Shetty. The actress is widely known for being one of the finest dancers in Indian cinema, and came to prominence overseas when she appeared in the UK’s Celebrity Big Brother in 2001, only to find herself caught up in a furious race row with other housemates. This appearance helped her to crack the UK market and her popularity spread further afield before returning to the Indian scene as a judge in Indian Idol in 2004.
As the Bollywood scene continues to spread its wings overseas, it is a certainty that Indian stars will make it to the same level as their Western counterparts. It is also worth considering that if Western stars were to appear in Bollywood, it could in fact be the springboard it needs to catapult Indian cinema to the same level as European or American cinema, finally breaking the Bollywood duck at the Oscars.