Mallika Sherawat on courting controversy, her forays into international cinema and her upcoming film

Sherawat became an international household name when, while promoting her TV show Bachelorette India, she became angry with a female journalist who had asked her to stop talking about women’s issues, suggesting that it was damaging India’s reputation globally.

Mallika Sherawat. Franck Robichon / EPA
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In a year when Cannes is making a big push to support women filmmakers, it seems apt that actress Mallika Sherawat has been invited to the film festival to represent Indian cinema.

Her main role at the festival was as a speaker at a discussion panel, Co-Produce in India, organised by the Indian Chambers of Commerce with the aim of encouraging international filmmakers to work with their Bollywood counterparts.

This being Cannes, she also revealed that she will be dancing at a party on Paul Allen's yacht today and also shared a few titbits about her upcoming role in romantic comedy Ishq­ ­Uncensored.

The 39-year-old has the gift of the gab when it comes to marketing.

"There is a lot of interest from the West towards Bollywood, ethnic actors and Indians," she says. "I've worked on Hawaii Five-O and a few Indian films that have been shot in America – they love ­Bollywood. So I can talk about it from personal experience. Everything has gone global. I think it's a great opportunity for a collaboration."

As well as wearing her business suit in support of Indian cinema, she also packed her dancing shoes for the trip to France.

“I’ve been invited to amfAR [a Cinema against Aids charity event] and there is a unique opportunity for me – I’m doing a Bollywood dance on Paul Allen’s yacht, a Cannes party, it’s the most sought-after event in Cannes,” she says.

Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, has been a popular fixture at Cannes since he began investing in film studios, including ­DreamWorks.

The actress and former model found film fame in India with roles in movies such as Murder (2004) and Pyaar Ke Side Effects (2006). But Sherawat has always been an Indian star with international appeal. On her first visit to Cannes she walked the red carpet alongside Jackie Chan to promote their martial-arts film The Myth. At the time, the late Time ­magazine film critic Richard Corliss purred "she's the next big thing".

Her attempts to cross over into American cinema have been mixed. Politics of Love sank without a trace. She starred in Jennifer Lynch's horror film Hisss, for which she walked down the Cannes red carpet holding snakes. That film was an example of the problems that arise when mixing film cultures.

“It was tough on Jennifer,” says Sherawat. “It was her first film with an Indian crew and they have a different way of working. In America, everything has to be put down on paper, whereas in India films are made more with heart.”

Sherawat became an international household name when, while promoting her TV show Bachelorette India, she became angry with a female journalist who had asked her to stop talking about women's issues, suggesting that it was damaging India's reputation globally. In her rebuke, Sherawat described India as a regressive society when it came to gender issues.

“When I talked about women’s rights and talked about gang rapes, a section of society thought I was giving India a bad name, but in my opinion not talking about the problem is as big a problem,” she says. “I love my country which is why I want to see it change. The first step to helping a cause is by bringing awareness to it.”

Sherawat has always pushed boundaries – she is one of the few actresses who kiss in Bollywood films, and caused consternation when she starred as a single woman looking for love in Bachelorette India.

“I did the show for a few reasons,” she says. “The first is that I come from a small town and there is a lot of stigma towards love marriages and I wanted to reach out to young audiences and show that there is no shame in it.

“The second reason was that they paid me an insane amount of money. I’m a single woman – it’s expensive to live in Bombay and you have to take care of yourself.”

Anuradha Tiwari, a female first-time director, is directing her next film, Ishq Uncensored.

“I play a young woman who comes to Mumbai and would do anything to be famous, à la Paris Hilton,” says Sherawat. “She comes up with the most outrageous costumes and falls in love with a very idealistic theatre director. I clicked with Tiwari immediately – she’s bold in her mentality. The new generation of filmmakers want to explore new themes.”

Sherawat also sees change coming in her career: “I cannot go on playing glamorous women all my life, you have to evolve.

"Change is essential and most of the parts being offered to me are overtly glamorous and I'm trying not to do that. In Hawaii Five-O I play Farah Khan, the mother of a kid and that's a conscious ­decision.

“I also want to devote more time to women’s rights – I come from a traditional conservative background and it’s personal to me.”

artslife@thenational.ae