Actresses without frontiers

Giselli Monteiro

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Helen in ‘Howrah Bridge’

By Neeru Saluja


They look different to the mainstream actresses but audiences love them. They barely are able to speak Hindi but their fans love listening to them. They sometimes can’t perform the latkas jatkas like the aamchi Mumbai girl but when they dance on screen everyone whistles. Why not ”“ they have the best of both worlds with their creamy complexions, drop dead gorgeous looks and slim figures.

Gone are the times when half Indians and foreigners were offered only typical roles ”“ either the item girl or the villain. With experimental scripts coming into play, the industry has become more open to half Indian actresses. Being half Indian is no longer a barrier in Bollywood, mixed parentage actors are garnering major roles for themselves in Bollywood productions.

A perfect example is the latest hit ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ ”“ both the main actresses Katrina and Kalki are half Indians. With the intention of making cross cultural international cinema, a fair skinned half Indian not only adds a glamorous image to the film but also speaks about the global theme of free movement of talent and capital.

For many of the new generation, Katrina Kaif or Lisa Ray will stand out fresh in their memory as mixed blood actresses. The Indian Down Under takes a trip down the Bollywood lane to track many of our half Indian actresses who have left an ever lasting memory with their beauty and acting skills.


Katrina Kaif


The all time favourite Barbie girl Katrina Kaif was born to a Kashmiri Pandit Indian father and an English mother. She lived in various European countries before she moved to Mumbai on the call of London based filmmaker Kaizad Gustad who spotted her during a modelling assignment. He gave her a part in Boom which failed. Though she had the drop dead looks and perfect figure, she didn’t get many roles due to her bad command of Hindi.

After her debacle, she caught the attention of actor Salman Khan and as their friendship grew, her roles in Bollywood started increasing ”“ Sarkar, Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya, Humko Deewana Kar Gaye. But the romantic comedy Namaste London in which she portrayed the Brit Indian girl brought her instant fame and since then Katrina has not looked back. Today she is one of the most sought Bollywood actresses today and has delivered hit after hit.

Kalki Koehlin

Kalki was born to French parents in Pondicherry who settled in India after falling in love with the country. Kalki studied drama and theatre in the University of London and later decided to move to Mumbai to try her luck in cinema. After a few modelling assignments, she was shortlisted for the role of Chandramukhi in the critically acclaimed ‘Dev D’. Though she knew Tamil, English and French, for her role in Dev D, she had to learn Hindi. Her efforts paid her well as she was awarded the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2010 for Dev D. She was recently seen in ‘Zindagi na Milege Dobara’ and next seen in Anurag Kashyap’s ‘The Girl in Yellow Boots’ which she has co-written with Anurag, her now husband.


Giselli Monteiro

Giselli was the surprise package of Bollywood film ‘Love Aajkal’. No one knew that the Punjabi girl Harleen Kaur was actually a Brazilian model! She came to audition for the role of Saif Ali Khan’s girlfriend but ended up as Harleen Kaur. Since then, she has featured on the covers of leading Indian magazines, walked the ramp and is all set to star in her next film ‘Always Kabhi Kabhi’.

Lisa Ray

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Lisa Ray was born in Toronto to a Bengali Indian father and a Polish mother. She was finishing high school in Canada when the celebrated Fashion Magazine ‘Gladrags’ spotted her and she ended up on their cover. She became an instant celebrity and also became known as the ‘Bombay Dyeing’ girl as she appeared in their advertisement with Karan Kapoor. Film offers came flowing in but she only made her Bollywood debut in 2001 with Kasoor opposite Aftab Shivdasini. The film got a lot of attention and her work caught the eye of acclaimed director Deepa Mehta who cast her in the Indo-Canadian flick ‘Bollywood Hollywood’ in 2002. In 2005 she worked with Deepa Mehta in the Oscar nominated film Water’ for which she even cut her hair. Declared as ‘one of the most beautiful women’, Lisa Ray has always accepted challenges with immense dignity ”“ whether it was the portrayal of varied characters in foreign productions or her recent struggle of fighting cancer.


Yana Gupta

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The Czech model with drop dead looks was already a famous international model (Victoria Secrets, Calvin Klein) when she ventured out to India. Soon she replaced model Lisa Ray and became the face of Lakme. Not only did she fell in love with India, but also got married to Indian artist Satyakam Gupta (though it ended up in divorce). After a few famous modelling stints she got the chance to perform in three item dance numbers (Babuji Zara Dheere Chalo, Oh What a Babe, Aadatanamma). She recently surfaced back as a strong contender for the popular TV show ‘Khatron ke Khiladi’ and ‘Jhalak Dikhla Ja’. Very few know that Yana is the first Western Caucasian woman to successfully crossover into the Indian film industry. And many know about her recent famous ‘no panties’ stunt!


Tulip Joshi

Tulip Joshi was born in Mumbai to a Gujarati Indian father and an Armenian Lebanese mother. Though Tulip had appeared in a number of top advertisements, movies came by chance. She was spotted on the wedding of Yash Chopra’s son for her debut film ‘Mere Yaar ki Shaadi Hai’. The film was a hit but her acting was moderate. After a two year break, she reappeared in a non commercial film ‘Matrobhoomi’ which was appreciated by critics. Besides Bollywood, she also tried her luck in Telugu, Kannada and Punjabi movies.


Jacqueline Fernandez

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Born in Colombo, Fernandez comes from a Sinhalese family in Sri Lanka. She was crowned the Miss Sri Lanka Universe in 2006 and made her acting debut in ‘Aladin’ in 2009 with Amitabh Bachchan and Ritesh Deshmukh. But she caught attention with her hot cameo appearance in the song ‘Apni tho Jaise Theise’ from Housefull which was a big success. Now she is all set to appear as the leading lady opposite playboy Emraan Hashmi in Murder 2.


Chubby, petite and brown-eyed, the self-christened Sulochana (real name Ruby Myers) was among the early Eurasian female stars of Indian Cinema. Known as half white and half Indian, Sulochana was a silent film star of Jewish ancestry. In her heyday she was one of the highest paid actresses of her time, when she was paired with Dinshaw Billimoria in Imperial Studios films. Among her popular films were Typist Girl (1926), Balidaan (1927) and Wildcat of Bombay (1927) where she essayed eight roles including a gardener, a policeman, a Hyderabadi gentleman, a street urchin, a banana seller and a European blonde! In mid-1930 she opened Rubi Pics, a film production house. She was awarded the 1973 Dada Saheb Phalke Award, India’s highest award in cinema for lifetime achievement. Despite her fame, she died a lonely and forgotten in her flat in Mumbai in 1983.


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Fearless Nadia ‘Huntervali’ was an Indian film actress and stuntwoman known for masked adventures in Huntervali. Originally from Perth, Australia her family moved to India when she was one year old. She was born Mary Evans in Australia to a British father and a Greek mother, who emigrated to Bombay with Nadia when she was very young (her father was a soldier in the British Army). She grew up near Peshawar where she learned to ride horses. After her father was killed in France during WWI, she and her mother moved back to Bombay.

As Mary tells in a documentary, she trained in shorthand typing to get a good job, but at the same time “I got very fat so I decided to reduce.” In order to lose weight, she took up dancing at a school run by a Russian dance teacher named Madame Astrova. Madame Astrova saw talent in Mary “because I was very supple and good despite being fat” and took her on as a member of her dance/theater troupe which traveled around India. Mary also changed her name to the more exotic “Nadia” on the advice of a fortune teller.

She began working for Zarko Circus in 1930 and made her debut in the Arabic film Makhazane el ochak (1932), which was filmed in Egypt. She was introduced to Hindi films by J.B.H. Wadia, the behemoth of stunts and action in 1930s Bombay. She made her debut with Lal-e-Yaman (1933). The film became a huge hit at the box-office and she became famous with doing stunts in Hindi films. She soon became known as India’s Original Stunt Queen, after making more films with stunts. Her film career went from 1933 to 1970.


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The most popular dancer of the item number, Helen was born in Burma to an Anglo Indian father and Burmese mother. Her father died during the Second World War, so the family migrated to Mumbai n 1943. As her mother’s salary as a nurse was not enough, Helen had to quit her schooling to support the family. She started off as a chorus dancer and solo dancer but found instant fame with her performance in the song “Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu” in Shakti Samanta’s film, Howrah Bridge. From there on, there was no looking back for Helen and she appeared in many films and danced on many hit songs, mainly sung by Asha Bhosle. She has twice won the Filmfare award for best supporting actress and in 1999 awarded the lifetime achievement award.


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