She’s the newest face in Bollywood, flown over from Liverpool to kick-start a career in the illustrious Hindi film industry. Arriving from England to permanently make India home while accepting its culture and language, its undeniable romance and its mysterious, whimsical magic is no mean feat, and Amy Jackson has certainly risen to the challenge.
Making her mark in Tamil movies initially with I and period-drama film Madrasapattinam, Jackson embraced Hindi cinema with movie Ek Deewana Tha, but has now found wider fame through starring opposite one of Bollywood’s biggest superstars, Akshay Kumar.
Through performing commendable stunts and including another eyebrow-raising bikini scene in the newly-released Singh is Bling, fame has quickly landed on Jackson’s doorstep. Yet this has also encouraged hushed whispers questioning Jackson’s place in Bollywood – the obvious issue being how a nation embraces a white, British actress trying to make it big in B-town. And while it isn’t totally unheard of for an international actress to find a place in Bollywood, it is interesting to see how quickly Jackson in particular has carved a career in it, now hinting at upcoming movies with the likes of Salman Khan.
Jackson’s sudden rise to fame is certainly unprecedented, so is it right for Indians to express anger as she fashions a career in Bollywood? Undeniably, it is difficult to process that a white, British-born female is playing the lead opposite Akshay Kumar, but how can we ignore the time when a fresh-faced, barely known Katrina Kaif, also born in Britain, entered the film industry speaking little to no Hindi and was quickly cast in numerous films, with the help of a dubbed Hindi voice-over?
Was it her Kashmiri origins or her familiar sounding name that simply ticked the box and rose her to ‘Sheila Ki Jawani’ fame, or the fact that she looked somewhat Asian, and so got the job done? Why is it that Indians easily accepted Katrina Kaif, for whom it took years to speak and understand the Hindi language, but brush off Amy Jackson, who has fully tried to embrace a new language and culture?
On the flip-side, it’s impossible to also dismiss Bollywood’s casual acceptance of international actresses who cannot speak fluent Hindi, but the odd way in which Kangana Ranaut – winner of the best actress accolade at the National Awards for her groundbreaking role in Queen – was mocked for her ‘inability’ to speak English because of her Haryana accent. Or the way in which Priyanka Chopra, now leading ABC’s Quantico in America, was recently scrutinized for her unconvincing ‘American drawl’ and her failure to stick to more Indian roots.
And that’s not all. It’s also problematic that in Singh is Bling, the make-up team have attempted to make Amy Jackson appear more ‘Indian’ through darkening her skin tone. It is this decision that shines a more negative spotlight on an industry which firstly, has always expressed a clear preference for fair skin and now, has cast a white actress in one of the blockbuster movies of the year, while simultaneously bringing her to a level of ‘acceptable brownness’. Where is the logic in this, and if Hollywood would not get away with making darker a white female actress in order to portray her as Asian or African, how does Bollywood?
With this in mind, wouldn’t Bollywood be better off saving the environment or the like through using less foundation and bronzer – or whatever is slapped onto Amy’s face – by bringing in new talent that is… well, Indian. It is frustrating that Hindi cinema has introduced a white British actress to a nation of Indians, but then made it a ‘requirement’ to be brown, which feels false and controversial when issues surrounding race are concerned.
There is no doubt that Bollywood must branch out and bring in new talent in a positive way, but when that talent draws in harsh, racist criticism, it becomes clouded by issues rooted deeply in India’s contradictory attitudes towards those who are selected to represent them on the big screen. And judging by previous results, if you’re British-Indian and can’t speak Hindi, it’s okay, but if you’re white and British, it’s not.
And if you’re Indian, well, you’re probably more worse off than anyone.