From Priyanka Chopra to Irrfan Khan & Shashi Kapoor; Indian actors who have worked in Hollywood
Indian actors have followed a generational trend in reaching out to Hollywood and playing important parts. Some have done it more successfully than others, take a look at the list.
Cinema as an art form and industry started in the western part of the world though India was not too far behind. According to the loosely subjected history, the first, complete Hollywood film to have been released was The Count of Monte Cristo in 1908. The first-ever Indian feature film was Raja Harishchandra in 1913. Hollywood picked up quickest because English is more universal than any other and therefore the increased market base allowed the westerners to invest more in the technology-based art form. Hollywood with his magnum opuses became the inspiration for eastern cinematics especially because of the large footprint. Here is a list of Indian actors who worked in Hollywood.
Priyanka had an established over a decade-long career in Hindi cinema when she headed to the west to lead in a show called Quantico. It was unlikely for an Indian actress to build that kind of equity but she was the first with her face on the poster. The road was not easy, she has not met with a proper Hollywood successful film with her in lead yet. Though she recently produced The White Tiger, which was nominated for an academy award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Her Hollywood films include: Baywatch, A Kid Like Jake, Isn’t It Romantic, We Can Be Heroes, The White Tiger including her upcoming features like Matrix and Text for You.
Irrfan had passed out from the National School of Drama in 1987 but he did not get recognition by the country till Maqbool and Haasil came in the early 2000s. In Asif Kapadia’s film The Warrior released in 2001, Irrfan played a crucial character which marked his first Hollywood feature. In 2006 came The Namesake directed by Mira Nair. Irrfan played Ashoke and won hearts all over the world for one of the best performances in the history of world cinema. In 2007, he played a cameo in Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, and 2008 was the watershed year with Slumdog Millionaire.
In 2009, Irrfan acted opposite Natalie Portman in New York, I Love You in one section of the anthology directed yet again by Mira Nair. 2012 was the breakout year for him in the west as he did, The Amazing Spider-Man and Life of Pi. One was a blockbuster and the other received academy awards. In 2015 he played the owner of the park in Jurassic World and it was one of the biggest blockbusters of all time. 2016 was with the legend Tom Hanks in an underwhelming film called Inferno and his last Hollywood film was Puzzle in 2018.
So far Deepika has only one Hollywood release to her name called xXx: Return of Xander Cage, where she acted opposite Vin Diesel in a crucial part. The film met with an underwhelming critical response but became a big hit in several countries. She has not signed another Hollywood venture yet though she is doing the remake of a film called The Intern. The original starred Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro, while this one will see Deepika and Amitabh Bachchan performing the parts.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
Aishwarya became a globally renowned celebrity in 1994 when she won the title of Miss World. Since then she has dabbled into many film industries including Hindi, Southern, and Hollywood as well. Her journey in western films started with Bride and Prejudice in 2004 where she acted opposite Martin Henderson being directed by Gurinder Chadha. In 2005, she was directed by Paul Mayeda Berges in The Mistress of Spices where her chemistry with Dylan McDermott was highly appreciated.
Later she did a biographical drama called Provoked helmed by Jag Mundhra and in 2007 came one of her biggest releases The Last Legion co-starring Colin Firth and Ben Kingsley. Her last Hollywood film so far is The Pink Panther 2 led by Steve Martin, which ended up becoming a massive success.
A legend in his 60’s, Anil Kapoor went to Hollywood after 30 years of being a superstar in the Hindi film industry. In Slumdog Millionaire, he played the intense character of a talk show host, who does everything possible to make sure that Jamaal does not win the game. The film received academy awards thus starting the short-lived road to success in Hollywood films. The biggest film of Anil Kapoor’s Hollywood career is Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol which released in 2011. He later went on to star with Kiefer Sutherland in 24 and remade the show in Hindi with him playing the lead character.
Anupam Kher has acted in over 300 films in his career spanning four decades so far. Saransh came out in 1984 and he took nearly 20 years in doing his first Hollywood venture called Bend It Like Beckham released in 2002, directed by Gurinder Chadha. The film went onto become a cult and got nominated in Golden Globe for Best Film – Musical or Comedy and a lot of other prestigious awards. In 2003, Anupam’s next film Banana Brothers were released and met with an underwhelming response. In 2004, he worked with Aishwarya in Bride and Prejudice playing the role of Mr. Bakshi.
In 2005, he reunited with Aishwarya in The Mistress of Spices playing the role of a grandfather. In 2006, Tanuja Chandra directed Anupam in a New York-based film called Hope and a Little Sugar. It was the opening film for the 2008 BAFTA. In 2007, Anupam did an erotic espionage Chinese film called Lust, Caution directed by the brilliant Ang Lee, film is considered a masterpiece now. In 2010, he worked with the legendary auteur Woody Allen in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. In 2012, he played the role of Dr. Cliff Patel in David O. Russel’s Silver Lining Playbook which went on to win many Academy Awards costarring Bradley Cooper.
He played the role of Kumail Nanjiani’s father in The Big Sick, which was one of the most acclaimed films of 2016. His last Hollywood film so far is Hotel Mumbai in 2018 co-starring Dev Patel.
Om Puri’s Hollywood career began with City of Joy in 1992 where he co-starred with Shabana Azmi and Patrick Swayze. His next film The Ghost and the Darkness in 1996 which went on to win an academy award for Best Sound Editing. In 1994, he acted in a 1994 American Romantic horror film directed by Mike Nichols. In 2001, he worked in The Mystic Masseur which was based on the novel of the same name by V.S. Naipaul. In 2014, he acted in The Reluctant Fundamentalist directed by Mira Nair and won a lot of acclaim for the film.
In 2007, he did a film with Tom Hanks called Charlie Wilson’s War. According to many, his best Hollywood film could be the sequel to East is East is called West is West released in 2010. One of his last Hollywood films was produced by Steven Spielberg called The Hundred-Foot Journey.
Naseer began his acting career in 1975 with his first Hindi film Nishant. His Hollywood career began in 1988 with The Perfect Murder, which was based on the novel of British crime fiction writer HRF Keating. He played the role of Inspector Ghote, who is the leading character in Keating’s novels. In 1998, he did an Indo-Canadian English film called Such a Long Journey starring Roshan Seth and Soni Razdan, film was appreciated by a handful of critics but did not make a mark on the box office.
In 2003, he acted with one of his acting ideals Sean Connery in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where he played the character of Captain Nemo. The film was a disaster in every which way but Naseer felt enriched from the experience of sharing screen space with his ideal. Some of his unremarkable English language films are The Great New Wonderful, Today’s special, and The Coffin Maker.
One of the more successful Indian actors, Ali Fazal has made his mark in the western film industry very early in his career. His Hollywood career began with Fast and the Furious 7 in 2015, which turned out to be a huge blockbuster. In the same year, he did an Indo-American film called For Here Or To Go? In 2017, he performed brilliantly in Victoria and Abdul, playing the titular character and acting opposite Dame Judi Dench, and made his mark in the world cinema.
He will next be seen in a star-studded cast of Death on the Nile with the likes of Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, and Kenneth Branagh, film got postponed due to COVID 19 and does not have an official release date yet.
One of the most prolific cinematic talents to have emerged in India is Dhanush, who writes, directs, produces, sings, and of course acts brilliantly in his films. Though started his career in 2002 in Tamil cinema, Dhanush did his first Hollywood film in 2017 by the name of The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir based on the novel of the same name. He is one of the few Indian actors, who has played a leading part in such a major motion picture.
His next Hollywood film is the project of the decade by the name of The Gray man directed by the Endgame director Russo Brothers co-starring Chris Evans and Ryan Gosling. The film will release on an OTT platform in 2022 with a budget of over $200 million.
Shashi Kapoor comes from the absolute lineage of Hindi cinema and he has done considerably great films in his over five-decade-long career to take the lineage on to new heights. Shashi was affluent with the western culture and theater, therefore, pursued his hands in Hollywood films at all junctures of his career. One of the first Hollywood films was directed by the legend James Ivory called The Householder in 1963 based on a 1960 novel. In 1965, he did another Hollywood venture called Shakespeare Wallah based on the life of Geoffery Kandal and his acting company.
In 1967 he acted with Hollywood heartthrob Hayley Mills in the romantic drama Pretty Polly. In 1972, he did an almost erotic film with Simi Garewal called Siddhartha which caused a controversy in India due to an explicit scene. In 1982 he played the role of Nawab of Khatm who falls in love with an Englishwoman. Some of his later Hollywood films include Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987), The Deceivers (1988), Jinnah (1998), and Side Streets (1998).
Nobody in the history of cinema had perhaps got a dream debut into the films but Suraj Sharma. A middle-class boy from Delhi auditioned for Ang Lee’s most ambitious project yet Life of Pi and ended up playing the central character. Life of Pi released in 2012 and became the number one film in the world that week. It did a whopping business of a little over $600 million and Ang Lee swept many awards at the Oscars. Suraj became the most promising newcomer in the world thus laying grounds for his Hollywood career. He continued the golden run with a Disney film in 2014 called Million Dollar Arm.
Suraj Sharma has basically been working in Hollywood with only two Bollywood films thus far. Some of his notable works include Burn Your Maps, Killerman, The Illegal, Homeland, God Friended Me, and Little America.
One of the most accomplished actors in Hindi cinema, Amrish Puri refused to audition for Steven Spielberg in the ’80s. Amrish has played some of the most iconic villains in Indian cinema and Hollywood as well. He played the character of Mola Ram, a villain in Spielberg’s 1984 blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Spielberg wanted to shoot the film in India but got denied permission, hence shot the film in Sri Lanka.
Amrish had refused to audition for the Hollywood casting agents yet got signed for the film and became Spielberg’s favorite villain by his own admission.
Saeed Jaffrey is an Indian – born British actor who worked in Bollywood, Hollywood, and the UK film industry. He played a major role in bringing together James Ivory and Ismail Merchant hence acted in a lot of Merchant-Ivory productions including his debut film The Guru in 1969. He has acted in numerous English language films including The Horsemen, The Wilby Conspiracy, The Man Who Would Be King, and Death on the Nile amongst others.
One of his finest performances was in 1982 classic Gandhi directed by Richard Attenborough where he played Sardar Valabhhai Patel and the film went onto win numerous academy awards. He debuted in Hindi films with Satyajit Ray’s 1977 classic Shatranj Ke Khiladi. In a career spanning over four decades, Saeed’s last film role was in 2011 Everywhere and Nowhere.
The prolific actor from Haryana, Randeep made his debut in films with the 2001 release Monsoon Wedding directed by Mira Nair as an English language film and an international co-production between the companies in India, the US, Italy, France, and Germany. Having worked brilliantly for two decades in the Hindi film industry, Randeep made his Hollywood debut with bells and whistles in 2020. He played the role of Saju Rav, a former Paramilitary major in Chris Hemsworth’s starrer Extraction produced by the Russo Brothers.
The film became a digital blockbuster and Randeep got loved worldwide for his unbelievable action skills in hand-to-hand combat. Rumours are that a spin-off film based on Saju’s backstory might be getting planned with Randeep as the lead.
There are many other Indian actors who have climbed the socio-culture barrier and transitioned into Hollywood but unfortunately, there has not been an A-list Hollywood actor that is Indian. Actors are not in the business of acting, they are in the craft of acting but they are in the business of getting into people’s imaginations. For a person of a different country, different roots and different colors to get in the imagination of people from the west is an incredibly hard thing to do. It is not any more or less gratifying to be in a great Hindi or English language film because at the end of the day, it is a story being told. But working in Hollywood opens a market-based horizon for actors which could eventually lead to wider acceptance of films hence the industry becoming bigger.
Most of the cinema of the world has died down from the weight of Hollywood but the Indian film industry is handling itself beautifully in about 6 languages. Western films are aspirational to many because of the audience base but the Indian industry has grown wonderfully in the last two decades and perhaps someday this piece could be another way around. List of Hollywood actors who worked in Bollywood, some time to go.
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