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GAINING A TOEHOLD IN BOLLYWOOD

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For some time now, and since the 1990s in particular, the connections between Australia and Bollywood have really taken hold. The ever-increasing presence of the Indian diaspora in Australia and the ever growing popularity of Bollywood have kindled aspirations for many Indian Australian girls to pack their bags and go to Mumbai, the seat-hold of one of the largest and oldest film industries of the world. Take Perth-born Alisha Farrer who always dreamt about becoming an actor and made it happen by moving to Mumbai.
Born to parents who originally hailed from New Delhi and moved to Australia about 26 years ago, Farrer, 24, maintained her Indian heritage and culture and like most Indians has been a dedicated fan of Bollywood films and songs performing on stage since the age of five. After completing her journalism degree from Curtin University in Australia and also qualifying from West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), she walked the ramps and did TV shows, commercials and photo-shoots.  
With the support of her parents, Farrer moved to Mumbai in 2014 and within few days of arrival signed her first film Hotel Beautifool, a Sameer Iqbal Patel comedy film which was released in 2016. “It was totally unexpected. I thought I’d have to struggle for a while. I got lucky. I just went for the audition and the directors wanted to cast me,” says Farrer.
Then she went on to work for Jhol, a romantic comedy film under the Shasan Arts banner. After completion of Jhol, she began shooting for erotic thriller Zindagi (Rajshri Productions) directed by Vikram Bhatt and produced by his brother Mukesh and Mahesh Bhatt. Farrer’s latest film Moh, a romantic thriller directed by Rakesh K Rathi, is in its final stages of production. Farrer has also acted in Telegu film Kumari 18 +.
Farrer believes in taking up every opportunity that comes her way as part of her learning curve. She has also worked in television making her appearances in Supercops vs Supervillains, Ye Hai Mohabbatein, Ishqbaaaz, Gumrah: End of Innocence and in season 10 of MTV Splitsvilla. The actor is coming to Australia soon for a show at the Perth Crown Casino on July 8 and other programs in Sydney and Melbourne later. Speaking to the Indian Weekly, Farrer shares her experiences working in Bollywood and some tips for those who want to get a break!

What has been your experience working in India since 2014?
I usually go to India with my family but this was the first time going on my own. I was really nervous but it was also fun. Over time you get to experience India on a different level, which is not the same as when you are on a holiday with your parents. But once you start working as an artist, you learn the language better, you become street smart, and you learn how to interact with people. So that was interesting – learning how to survive on my own as an adult for the first time and taking care of myself.

Have you learnt Hindi well?
I learnt Hindi before, it was the basics that were taught at home but I didn’t know it that well. When I moved to Mumbai I made a lot of friends who helped me out, plus the directors I worked with helped me with the scripts. I got better with time.

What was your first break in acting?
My first break was Hotel Beautifool (2014). We started shooting in September and it was released last year in Canada. I have done almost five Bollywood movies and one Telegu movie.

Tell us about your latest film Moh?
I am in love with a painter in this film and I am trying to get a hold of him but his girlfriend keeps coming in the line and she won’t let me get through. I am desperate because I have been his fan for the longest time and I have fallen in love with him. So I am trying to get in contact with him but I can’t. Finally, one day I get to speak to him on the phone and I am supposed to meet him. On that very day when I am on my way to see him I get into a car accident. I won’t give too much away but essentially the film delves into my conflicts and how I try to get close to the painter and what happens to my life. I star opposite Dev Sharma.

Is it hard for Indians from Australia to strike it big in Bollywood?
I think it is hard for Indians everywhere. But at least if you come from Australia you can have one level up by gaining some initial experiences first in your country as I believe people like to work with those having some international experience. So it might be easier in a way for girls from abroad to come down to India and they sort of get a special treatment too – that’s true because they want something more exotic. A lot of Indian Australian girls have the accent, they have a beautiful tan, and they have a unique look. People like different things in Bollywood.
But that having said, it is very important to be motivated and have ambitions as it is very difficult to get a break because thousands of girls come to Mumbai every day. So you have to be mindful of that and not be disappointed if things didn’t work out because it is very difficult. If you get lucky it is usually because of being at the right place at the right time. You really have to struggle. I know a lot of actors who do get depressed because of not getting as much work. That happens but you have to be motivated and confident and have a good head on your shoulders.
Lastly, always have a back-up plan. If any girl wants to come down to Mumbai they should have options – firstly finish their studies and then come down and so you have something to fall back on if plan A does not work.

Were you well-equipped to handle India?
Honestly no, because I was only 20 years-old at the time. I was very nervous especially about getting used to that lifestyle. My dad was there the first month and he did warn me that India is not as easy as one would like to think, but I was like ‘yay I can do this’. I wanted to try it out and see what it is to be independent.

Five films old, are you on the right path?
I think so. But again, there is no set path that anyone can have. You have to make your own journey. The thing is, some people have made it on just luck and good contacts, while others have made their own relations or forced their way into the industry. Yet some others start from the bottom, worked for, say, 12 years and then made it. Everyone’s path is different. For me I was never really picky about work because I wanted to experience everything in order to have more understanding of the actual art of acting. Some people don’t do certain things because they don’t want to be type-casted. I never said no to every opportunity I got because I wanted to improve my acting. And also it is good money wise. So I am pretty happy and satisfied with my journey so far.

What would be your best advice for those going in for auditions?
There are hundreds of girls out there who have experience and talent so you have to keep in mind the competition to be able to give your best shot. Understand the script, ask for the script in advance, rehearse in front of the mirror and understand expressions. Also, get more information on the character and be prepared for whatever the character you may have to play. But importantly, be confident and hope for the best.

(As told to Indira Laisram)

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