Bollywood is tempting foreign actresses.
Aishwarya Rai may be venturing out of Bollywood in search of greener film pastures abroad, but at least 16 foreign Venuses are orbiting the Indian film industry to fill her spot, testifying to the global appeal of the country's silver screen.
The recent controversy over Nigar Khan, voluptuous model, heartthrob of steamy music video albums and bit Bollywood actress, has sparked new attention in foreign actresses in the world of India's glitterati.
Born in Iran, brought up in Norway and educated in Australia, Nigar has built a prolific film and video career in India. But, she was deported by Mumbai Police in early February, because she did not possess the "proper employment visa," which is a violation of the law. The controversy has sparked panic among foreign actresses as well as producers, some of whom had paid hefty advances and signing bonuses to her.
The Mumbai Police say that even though Khan is married to Indian actor Sahil Khan, she is not permitted to work as a model or actress in India, because she is on a tourist visa: "We have charged her with violation of visa act as her tourist visa does not entitle her to earn by acting in films, doing modeling or as an item girl doing video film albums."
Khan acted in Vicky Tejwani's Shadi Ka Laddu and Double Cross - Ek Dhokha, which was shot in Cape Town, South Africa, and London. She is the lead in Kumar Jai's latest celluloid venture Shortcut. Since Khan was deported, Shortcut is on hold, prompting Kumar Jay to lament that her deportation has hit him financially hard.
Mahesh Bhatt, the famous filmmaker, who faced visa problems with his South African actress Ilene Hamman earlier, also denounced Khan's expulsion.
Bhatt said when Hamman came to India to perform in his films, the Foreign Citizen's Registration Office of Mumbai Police was rude and heavy handed toward her.
Nigar Khan is the first foreign actress to be deported so publicly, even though foreigners have been acting in Bollywood films since 1971.
Only two of the foreign actresses, Khan and Yana Synkova Gupta, sought to settle in India, both marrying Indian actors. Both, however, are better known as models and video song album performers than for their Bollywood roles.
The foreign invasion of Bollywood began in 1971 when Gambler portrayed the sexy British actress Zahida Zahira beside super star Dev Anand. She was followed by another British actress, Sheeba.
Over a 20 year span from 1971 to 1990, only three other Pakistani actresses, Salma Aga, Zeba Bakhtiyar, Somi Ali, and a Bangladeshi Babita penetrated Bollywood. Of them, only Salma and Babita were commercially successful. Babita got her golden chance in Satyajit Ray's Asani Sanket (Distant Thunder), which became a major hit.
The current actresses in Bollywood are, however, drawn not just from neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh, but from all over the world, including Czechoslovakia, Norway, South Africa, Australia, Serbia, United States, United Kingdom and Thailand
Bhojpuri film maker Ramprabesh Akela believes foreign actresses have failed to win mass acceptance, because of their alien looks and faltering Hindi. Only Nigar Khan and Yana Gupta are proficient at the language. Because of the language impediment, Akela said, Bhojpuri films are unlikely to cast them, "At least, I am not going to have the role of heroin or side heroines done by firangi actress in my films."
Akela said domestic actresses are also often overbooked and producers are too impatient to wait for two to three years before they become available. Foreign actresses, by contrast, jump at the opportunity, adventure and prestige of working in the world's largest film industry.
He added that some of the leading Indian actresses have a reputation for being whimsical, arriving late on the set, misbehaving with the crew and being demanding and moody. By contrast, the foreign actresses tend to be far more producer and director "friendly" and accommodating and professional about their obligations.
Lakhinder Shah Lucky, a well known floor manager in Bollywood, says foreign actresses are set to become a permanent fixture of Bollywood because of their growing appeal. Of their midriffs, atleast.