January 23 2016
Brit actor is lifting off in Bollywood…
SHE might not be quite as well-known as Bollywood babe Katrina Kaif, but Glaswegian-born Feryna Wazheir’s career is well off the runaway and in comfortable flight.
She appears alongside star Akshay Kumar in “Airlift*” which released yesterday (January 22) in the UK and Wazheir who flits between the UK and Mumbai is at least – to all intents and purposes without getting into a debate about Kaif’s origins – another Brit making it in Bollywood (along with Liverpudlian Amy Jackson).
“It’s a really patriotic, feel good film with lots of highs and lows and we’re all very proud of it,” said Wazheir to www.asianculturevulture.com
The film goes back to 1990 and tyrant Saddam Hussein has just sent his crack troops, the Iraqi Republican Guard, into Kuwait and has annexed it and doesn’t give a damn.
That a war is about to start – between Iraq and the West and its allies – in the region, no one is in any doubt.
Caught in the middle of that are some 170,000 Indian expats and they get permission to leave but need to cross over to Amman in Jordan, where Air-India planes can transport them to safety and back to India. There were nearly 450 such flights in a short space of time.
Kumar plays Ranjit Katiyal, the man who literally rounds up all the Indians and guides them to safety.
Of course here in the West, there was very little about this mass evacuation – one of the largest and most successful any country has ever launched. At the time it was a bit hush-hush, and Iraq didn’t stop it, as India-Iraq relations were good.
“It was chaos when Saddam attacked Kuwait,” Wazheir explained. “My character is Tasneem. She’s a wealthy woman and finds herself in a refugee camp and so goes from having a lot of money and everything to nothing in just a night.”
It seems she also clashes with Katyal and the two rough it out a bit.
“I have a lot of scenes with Akshay,” Wazheir dropped teasingly. “My character is intimidating, and I am supposed to be intimidated too.”
She said she coped better with nerves this time around than in her last film – “Sadiyaan”, a 2010 release which featured acting icons more of yesteryear, Rishi Kapoor, Rekha and Hema Malini.
Something of a star vehicle for Luv Sinha, the son of Bollywood actor and politician Shatrughan Sinha, the movie was met with largely quizzical scratches of the head.
“That was a lead role and I was far more nervous in that one than this,” Wazheir confessed.
This should give her career a real turbo boost – the early reactions suggest it is going to be a big hit.
Directed by Raja Menon, who enjoyed a fair degree of critical success with his indie production, “Barah Aana” in 2010, this looks like a slick, superbly produced action thriller with enough emotions to engage you and make you care what happens.
“Raja told me he had been looking for my character for some time without much success, he said I seemed to fit what he was looking for.”
Menon had seen her in the more arty, “Rang Rasiya” by one of India’s best known names in that style of filmmaking, Ketan Mehta and about the famous 19th Century Indian painter, Raja Ravi Verma.
Released in 2008, it starred Randeep Hooda (a star now in Bollywood) and featured Nandana Sen (daughter of Nobel Economist Professor Amartya Sen), and while it did well at festivals and the like, the film didn’t register too much in India.
Sadly, those sorts of films generally don’t, though the climate for such continues to improve.
She’s come a long way and her story from Glasgow to Bollywood is an interesting one.
Before these films, she appeared in some high profile music videos, one for AR Rahman and another for Hariharan, a well-known Indian film playback singer. There were also some top Indian magazine cover shoots – not difficult to see why.
And those of you familiar with the now six-year-old London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) will recognise her – she appears in the festival trailer and is a LIFF ambassador.
She actually first got into theatre in India around six years ago and worked with some leading lights of the stage there, including Satyaday Dubey and Alyque Padamsee (most memorably Mohammad Ali Jinnah in “Gandhi”.)
It was a good grounding and by being involved in theatre it meant she went into Bollywood with a greater appreciation of the pitfalls than many of her UK wannabe counterparts; she was taken more seriously as theatre actors in India are usually more dedicated to acting as a craft and a discipline.
For most British girls, their ability to speak Hindi – and how they speak it – is an issue.
“I had a diction teacher and she said my Hindi was perfect and that I had no accent.”
She speaks Dogri, a common language in Jammu & Kashmir, the area of her family roots.
“It wasn’t really a problem,” she continued. “But there’s a perception (in Bollywood) that people from Britain speak Hindi with an accent but it’s not always necessarily true.”
So once you’ve got your Hindi up to a level and it sounds authentic, what then…
“At LIFF, girls often asked me. You have to want to go there for the love of the work – not the glamour.
“Girls come to me and say they want to be the next Katrina Kaif and I say: ‘Okay, do you speak the language? And they say: ‘No, but Katrina Kaif didn’t’.
“She’s worked incredibly hard and anyone in the industry will tell you she worked on her language skills, her acting skills, her dance skills – you have to work incredibly hard.”
So, you have the language, the work ethic, the fair skin (?!?)- you’re all ready for that flight to Mumbai and ready to knock on Bollywood’s door.
“I would say, don’t let anyone discourage you. There will be a lot of people who will, but you have to drown out those voices and you have to say this is what you want.
“It’s a very hard career path and you have so much to prove as an outsider and you have to be careful, when you come from the West.
“People can be very trusting, very believing and it’s a very different world out there.
“You have to attach yourself to proper agents and proper companies and not get caught up in any nonsense that can happen.”
So be wary, cautious, take things slowly and be aware that other people can have quite unscrupulous agendas.
And of course, most of all, be patient, warned Wazheir.
“Thousands come to make it and think how few do – there’s a saying in Bollywood that it takes about 1,000 days before you get your first break and that’s pretty true.”
It takes a bit longer to be airborne and then soar, but ambition, application, patience, talent, will probably get you there – you don’t have to ask Katrina, you can ask Feryna.
‘Airlift’ is on release in the UK now
For the review click here