The end of school freaked me out… all my friends were off to university and everyone seemed to be going to the same two… All I could think was ‘get me outta here’-the heat is calling my name! I researched the top 10 film schools in Asia and the first one that came up was Whistling Woods Int in Mumbai. My mind was set. I rang them up and told them I’d like to come. The audition was one question…. can you walk out the sea in a wet sari? Obviously, I thought… with my eyes closed!
Weeks later I was in the most rural part of Mumbai meeting the principal to confirm my place.
The only white girl in the school was quite interesting. I became ‘Super Indian’ adapting to their customs and making them my own. I picked up the language quickly and ate Parantha and Aloo Ghobi with Dahi most days. Believe it or not there are a lots of westerners in Bollywood! The most famous Bollywood actress… Katrina Kaif is English! However a lot of English, French and Russian girls sign with agencies for six months and become dancers-very few stay on long enough to become Bollywood stars.
When my year there was up I rushed off to LA, as it seemed like the natural thing to do. However you can’t just go to LA and stay there. Having signed on for a year course at UCLA, once it was finished so was my visa. In order to even audition in LA you need an O1 visa (entertainment), which is hard to get. I knew I could get work a lot easier in Mumbai then I could in LA and I decided again that Asia was where I wanted to be.
So I flew back and made Andheri my home. I got my first film role, which was a real experience! I played the lead role in a Marathi film, Punha Gondhal Punha Mujra. For my first film I was on set usually by 6am and in hair and makeup for about 2 hours, then I would wait in my trailer until I was called to be on set. I was usually in front of the camera for 15-20 minutes then I’d go back into my trailer and would be called out again when I was needed. This was mainly because I was the only foreigner on set and everyone wanted pictures and it was a distraction to the filming so when I wasn’t needed I’d just be in the trailer. Trays of fruit would constantly be brought in and I had chai (an Indian tea) on tap. When filming finished I didn’t hear from the director for about 6 months whilst the film was being edited. A few weeks before the release I was called in to do final dubbing, which consisted of me repeating every line I had in the film in a studio so the quality of sound was better. We then had a poster photo shoot where I was on the poster with the two leads. When the film was releasing we travelled around parts of the state and promoted the film… visited schools, cinemas, universities and temples and answered questions and talked about the film. We would then take a few photos and sign autographs, before being ushered away quickly before it got dangerously overcrowded. The biggest release was in Pune. Arriving in my own car to thousands of screaming fans was maddening! Everyone wanted photos and were desperate to touch me because of the colour of my skin.
After that I was signed with a modelling agency, which was hell! My agents were sending me for the worst jobs. I would work 14-hour days and get paid bare minimum. Sometimes I didn’t even eat and would survive just off the sweetest chai they served.
Shoots were pretty hit and miss. Sometimes everyone behaved professionally and treated me with respect, but most of the time the light men flirted with you and the director or photographer asked for my number. I would feel uneasy for the whole shoot, which was near to impossible to hide from the camera. My agency would usually call me for auditions or I’d find them through word of mouth… I had several agents and they would all let me know when something came up. The last 60 auditions I went to, I got the role but when it came to signing the contract I was told I had to sleep with the director or the producer. I declined always and they would offer more money. It was pretty horrendous. The problem was that a lot of the foreigners who came only came for 6 months and never came back again so they were more inclined to do these sorts of things. For me, India was my home and I had created a life there, I wasn’t about to start sleeping my way to the top…
If I could have done things differently I would have constantly had someone with me at all times when on set and going to photo shoots. I think i would have felt much more safe and secure and in some cases I would have probably got treated a little better.
My most recent film I was in was filmed a few months ago in Colombo, Sri Lanka and was Vinnie Jones, Luke Pasquelino and Steven Lang’s new film. Most of the actors were Hollywood starts and 2 lead actors were Indian, Om Puri and Bezhaad Khan. The crew were also all Indian, so I was constantly swapping between Hindi and English which caused quite a commotion on set… “Desi” was my nickname and it got me all the best food and tea on set. Right now I’m focussed on other things, but I don’t regret the choices I made and I’m glad I didn’t follow the standard path just because of my friends back in the UK. Through good and bad, Mumbai was and is home.
Follow Maddie on Instagram @Maddseden