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A still from xXX 3 starring Deepika Padukone and Vin Diesel.

Priyanka in Quantico, Deepika in xXx3: Why Hollywood is hot for Indian actors

Vinayak Chakravorty

A well in India in the past. At least Ben Kingsley looked like Gandhi, if you gloss over the white skin. Over the past ten days, I have been trying to figure out what likeness Joseph Fiennes remotely bears with Michael Jackson.

Fiennes’ casting as MJ in an upcoming comedy has amused many. First the Oscar whitewash and now this. Interestingly, it’s all happening when Indian actors seem to be cracking the H-code.

Irrfan has been busy for a while. Deepika Padukone has just confirmed for the next xXx flick. After her Quantico coup, rumours have linked Priyanka Chopra with a Baywatch film slated for 2017. Freida Pinto and Anupam Kher have been getting roles of importance beyond what Gulshan Grover or Kabir Bedi managed in the past.

The starring roles of Naseeruddin Shah and Aishwarya Rai don’t seem one-offs anymore. Is brown the new black in Hollywood?

It’s no random fad, actually. The big suits of Hollywood are among the smartest marketers in the world and there is method in every apparent madness they unleash.

Recall how stars and filmmakers of the far east became a Hollywood rage in the nineties and 2000s? It was no coincidence Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh scaled global superstardom around the same time that Hollywood studios gained significant foothold in the far east market. Hollywood has been knocking at the doors of India for a long time.

Efforts at expanding business here have included releasing films dubbed in Indian languages and day-and-date openings. Yet the basic market of English films has largely remained restricted to urban multiplexes.

Casting Indian actors in English films is level two of the game. Notice how the films they are being associated with are mostly franchise fare such as xXx, Baywatch or Jurassic World – stuff that clicks big time in developing nation markets.

The other sort of Hollywood films where Indian actors naturally get big roles are ones telling Indian stories, like Life of Pi or The Namesake. The occasional Miral or Black Gold may cast a Freida Pinto as an Arabic woman too, but then the American market tends to deem all brown skins as one.

The current focus on Indian actors and Indian stories is in sync with Hollywood’s expanded interest in the desi market, beyond releasing and exhibiting films here. Studios are now seriously eyeing the lucrative Hindi film production and distribution space.

The process has already started. Fox Star and Sony Pictures have been into Hindi films. An Indian actor headlining a new xXx flick, in this context, can only garner hype here for producers Sony, considering the studio is serious about the Hindi film business.

Hollywood, truth be told, only sees the colour of money – just as the rest of showbiz. If brown is the new black, the trend is reminiscent of the early nineties when the pageant circus went big with Indian beauties. Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai won their crowns coincidentally just before the years when globalisation of the Indian market happened.

“It don’t matter if you’re black or white”, the eighties King of Pop sang. Hollywood sure digs that line when there is money to be made. Who gets into MJ’s skin don’t matter, too.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

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