Monday, November 29, 1999

Discovery of India

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Sarah Thompson feels connected to Indian films, people and culture through her Bollywood debut RaajneetiAfter a host of English films and soaps, how did a hardcore Indian film like Raajneeti happen?About a year ago, my manager called and asked if I was interested in meeting an Indian director who was coming to Los Angeles to look for an American actress for his next film. I had always been fascinated by India, so I immediately said yes. Prakashji (Jha) and I had breakfast and immediately hit it off. He described the plot and the character of Sarah Collins, and I was riveted. I instantly knew I had to be a part of the project. I had one more meeting with him and Lokesh Dhar (from UTV), and then they offered me the part.Since the movie deals with the politics of an Indian state, how important was the background study?It was very important. When I first met Prakashji, he told me Indians have three main passions: cinema, cricket, and politics. So I wanted to be as well informed as I could on the subject before we shot. I did a lot of studying and asked Prakashji a million questions on the sets.How closely do you follow the politics of your country?Very closely. I believe everyone should follow the politics of his or her country and do their best to participate. It's an honour and a privilege to be able to choose and align yourself with a political party that shares your values.Were you aware of Prakash Jha's works before signing the film?I wasn't well-versed in Hindi films before Raajneeti came along. But when I found out I was going to meet Prakashji, I gave myself a crash course. Now I'm obsessed with Indian cinema, and of course, two of my favourite films are Apaharan and Gangaajal. As an American, I tend to be exposed to India through Rajasthan and the Taj Mahal. Prakashji's films were fascinating in their willingness to show another side. And it's that fearlessness that attracts me to any artiste.Ranbir Kapoor is Bollywood's current heartthrob. Were you aware of it when you shared screen space with him?Very much so. From the moment I arrived in India, I saw his face everywhere—commercials, billboards and magazine covers. His heartthrob status was immediately apparent. I'd also seen Saawariya and knew he'd received a lot of attention for his performance. Getting to act opposite someone as talented and focused as Ranbir is a complete joy.Katrina Kaif is the only other female lead in the film. Were you insecure of sharing screen space with her?Of course. Katrina is an incredibly beautiful and talented actress. Who wouldn't be insecure about sharing screen space with her? We play very different characters, though, and I think we both bring something unique to the film.Do you plan to venture into Bollywood more often now?I would love nothing more than to do another Indian film. Shooting Raajneeti was one of the best experiences of my career, and I have positively fallen in love with Indian culture. I've been studying Hindi for the past six months and am giving myself a thorough education in Hindi films.Does this also mean more trips to India?I have visited India twice now, and there are so many things I love about it. What I like most, though, are the people. I have never travelled anywhere in the world and felt as welcome as I did in India. I also love the food. I crave the Paneer Tikka from the Jehan Numa Hotel in Bhopal almost every single day.We have heard so much about you. When do we get to see you?I will be arriving about a week before the premiere, and I can't wait.

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