A Scottish boy from Aberdeen landed a dream role in a Bollywood movie which began streaming on Netflix this week.
Jacob Smith, 5, who was cast for the role during a family holiday in Goa, plays Raj Rathore in Mimi, starring Kriti Sanon and Pankaj Tripathi in the lead.
The comedy-drama is about an aspiring Bollywood actress, played by Sanon, who opts to be a surrogate mother for an American couple to help fund her dreams. When pregnancy tests reveal all’s not well with the unborn child, the American couple have a change of heart about the baby, throwing the expectant mother’s life in turmoil. Jacob, plays Sanon’s son, Raj in the film.
Jacob, who was three when he was spotted by a casting agency in Goa in 2019 while on holiday with his family, had no previous acting experience. Jacob’s parents, Kris and Julie Smith, as well as older sister Erihn were in India as part of their globetrotting trip, which had earlier taken them to Jordan, Albania, Serbia and Hungary.
"We got talking to [the casting agency] and one thing led to another and that's how Jacob ended up in the movie,” dad Kris told BBC Scotland.
"They had been looking all over India for six months, so we genuinely didn't think they would pick our wee Jacob. They chose him because the director was able to get him to perform on set, which is seriously impressive because he has the attention span of a gnat at times,” he said with a laugh.
"We felt a bit of trepidation whether to put our son into that spotlight. It concerned us to an extent, but once we started speaking to the production company, they managed to ease our concerns.”
The Smith family relocated to Mumbai, where Bollywood films are made, in January 2020, and enrolled Jacob in acting classes. They then went to Rajasthan, where the film’s storyline is set, for filming in February.
"He had around 20 pages of dialogue in Hindi and he was only three-years-old at the time. He learnt the lines, but he's a Scottish boy and in the film he's an Indian boy brought up in Rajasthan, so they couldn't use his actual voice because he doesn't have the dialect,” mum Julie explained.
"They dubbed over his voice in the end, but if you watch the film his lips work really well with the lines. Everyone in India would know that he was Scottish with his north-east Hindi twang.”
With cinemas still shuttered across India due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mimi was released on Netflix as well as JioCinema on Monday, July 26.
Directed by Laxman Utekar, the film received mixed reviews, but many praised it for its content and performances by Sanon and Tripathi.
“Mimi picks a relevant topic and turns it into an engaging, empowering and compassionate tale on humanity and motherhood,” Times of India said in its review, adding that Sanon “marks her arrival as a solid actor who can carry a film on her own.”
Mashable India called the film “a family entertainer that might make you cry, laugh and smile all at the same time”.
“Mimi is enriched by Kriti Sanon and Pankaj Tripathi’s performances,” the website said. “It packs drama by highlighting the ills of growing surrogacy practices in India.
In their interview with BBC Scotland, the Smiths, who have been posting about their travels via the Instagram account @clanwander, said they were “beyond proud” of their son’s acting debut.
"Everyone is buzzing. My mum has watched it a couple of times and cried. There's been lovely feedback. It's like, wow, that's our boy. We're so happy,” Julie said.
Mimi is now streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer below: