Aishwaria Rai-Bachan was one of the first Bollywood stars to make a name for herself in Hollywood, playing the lead actress in films such as Bride and Prejudice and Provoked. But after a series of flops including Mistress of Spices and The Pink Panther 2, Rai-Bachan’s Hollywood career fizzled out and it didn’t seem likely that anyone would try again.
It wasn’t until Danny Boyle’s critically acclaimed Slumdog Millionaire, with its Indian premise that couldn’t help but use Indian actors, that Irrfan Khan began to carve his way into the western film industry. He has since gone on to star in the Life of Pi, The Amazing Spiderman 2 and will be appearing alongside Tom Hanks in the upcoming Dan Brown adaptation, Inferno.
Bollywood has typically been seen in a comical light by the mainstream media. It has long been known for its singing and dancing and colourful sets, but not for its compelling stories, directorial expertise or acting ability.
But with Khan, there is finally a Bollywood actor that has managed to succeed in Hollywood, been given meaty roles as opposed to token roles and been praised for acting chops to beat.
Now Bollywood beauties Priyanka Chopra, 34, and Deepika Padukone, 30, are to star in their own Hollywood blockbusters.
When rumours first surfaced of Chopra heading into Hollywood, it was feared she would be dismissed as just another beautiful woman cameoing in a movie that needed to up its diversity quota. However Chopra has since proved herself.
The former Miss World has already helmed one season of the American show Quantico. Playing the lead, Chopra stars as FBI agent Alex Parrish as she navigates the intriguing world of intelligence and deals with accusations and threats of terrorism.
Quantico proved a success and Chopra managed to foster an American fan base, even landing a People’s Choice Award for Favourite New Actress in a TV Series. Chopra also appeared on The Huffington Post’s “100 Most Influential Women on Twitter” list, named as the most influential Indian woman on Twitter.
Now the actress is to star in the new Baywatch movie alongside Dwayne Johnson, the highest paid actor in Hollywood, and heartthrob Zac Efron.
But Padukone, her friend and rival and Bollywood’s top actress at the moment, is hot on her heels. Last month, the former model wrapped up filming for her debut Hollywood project, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, wherein she plays a love interest opposite Vin Diesel.
Whilst not Oscar contenders, the movies are expected to be big hits among action hungry audiences. And with big name Bollywood actors finally landing substantial roles in popular blockbusters, it paves the way for ordinary Asian actors to get their foot in the door too.
Until now, many Asian actors, notable or nameless, had been discriminated against and passed up for even Asian-specific roles. For example, Star Trek had Khan Noonien Singh played by Benedict Cumberbatch. The fantasy flick The Last Airbender cast white actors in East asian and South asian roles.
But now that Hollywood and western audiences are warming to asian actors, it will only be a matter of time before tokenism and ‘race washing’ washes out and we can welcome asian home-grown stars, such as Dev Patel, into the ranks of cinematic legends.
xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is set for release on January 2017, with Baywatch following May 2017.