MEFCC 2017: Pooja Batra on the challenges of making the move from Bollywood to Hollywood

The actress and former beauty queen did not find it easy to make it in the US film industry.

Bollywood actress Pooja Batra poses at Middle East Film Comic Con 2017. Courtesy MEFCC
Powered by automated translation

Pooja Batra, a Bollywood star and former beauty queen, moved to Los Angeles 10 years ago to be with her American husband.

The effect this had on her career turned out not to be as straightfoward as she hoped.

“Initially I thought I could still work in Bollywood from LA, but that didn’t happen so I had to totally restart my career,” she says. “I had no contacts in Hollywood and, at that time, nobody there had really heard of Bollywood – or diversity for that matter – so for me, I was paving the path for future generations.”

It is not easy being a trailblazer, as Batra was to discover.

"It was just ridiculous," she says. "How can you cast a show like ER without Indian doctors? America was so focused on its own actors and they weren't interested in other cultures at all."

Batra, who we spoke to when she was a guest at the 2017 Middle East Film and Comic Con, says things have improved, as evidenced by her first Holywood lead role in Vincent Tran and Riyaana Hartleys' One Under the Sun, which was released in the United States last month.

“In my last film in Hollywood I played a female astronaut, she says. “How many Indian actresses can say that. To be honest, I do prefer Hollywood to Bollywood. The scripts are less cliched, they have depth and there’s more substance in the female characters. We all need to make more movies like that.”

It is perhaps nottoo surprising that Batra eventually succeeded in making the switch from Bollywood to Hollywood. She has worked in a number of regional Indian movie industries, and says Malayalam cinema was a particular challenge.

“It’s hard to make a film in a language that isn’t your own,” she says. “To this day I don’t speak Malayalam, it’s one of the hardest languages to learn.

“Sometimes the director will sit there and tell you you have to learn your lines and they’ll tell you what it means and be really strict that you say it like you know what it means. Other times they’re like, ‘Well if it’s a long shot then just say it in Hindi – we’ll just do Malayalam for the close up.’”

Batra did find the experience rewarding, however.

“Malayalam is known for its stories,” she says. “It’s more gritty and less glossy than Bollywood, and they tend to be picked up and made into films in different languages.

“A lot of other countries drive towards Malayalam films for their own stories.

"But it really is like when you watch Game of Thrones and they have a whole village speaking a made up language. It's not easy."