"I wanted to play a
WITH her dusky skin and brooding eyes, Ayesha Dharker scarcely strikes out as your quintessential Bollywood heroine. But she’s the talented actress who has made it to Hollywood, doing a speaking role as Queen Jamillia in the latest of the Star Wars series, Attack of the Clones.
As one accustomed to tiny-budget art films like Ismail Merchant’s The Mystic Masseur and Santosh Sivan’s The Terrorist, the experience of working in a lavishly mounted science fiction film with an international cast has been doubtless exhilarating.
"I was born in the year Star Wars made its debut," informs the 25-year-old. "I grew up watching those movies — I guess I was a Star Wars kid. So for me to be involved in this film is a little like revisiting my childhood... and getting paid for it."
However, it is not so much
for the film as for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, Bombay Dreams that
everybody is raving about Ayesha Dharker. In it, she is Rani, the
archetypal vamp who schemes against Priya (Peeya Kalidas) in the
competitive, dangerous world of the Indian movie industry. "My
character is slimy," she says. "Not nice at all, and quite
evil. I modelled my characterisation on the roles Helen has played in
the past. Actually, I have always felt that I don’t want to be a
Bollywood actress, but I certainly want to play one. This was my one big
As a little girl, Ayesha showed absolutely no signs of stage fright and took part in almost every school play she could. At the age of 11, she made her screen debut in an Indo-French film, Maneka. She played the title role of a girl who could recall (and actually revisits) her past life.
In another two years, Ayesha was shooting big time in Ronald Joffe’s City of Joy, playing the daughter of Om Puri (a rickshaw-puller in Kolkata). She carefully watched each actor’s style, learning a "bit from everyone", as she says.
"At the age of 13, your mind is like a sponge," explains Ayesha. "Patrick Swayze (the hero) was very ‘method’ — starving himself to get a gaunt look — whereas Shabana Azmi (playing her mother) would get into the mood of the character by striking small talk conversations with anybody she met. Shabana is very instinctive and never broods over what her character’s motivation is."
But the actor who taught her the most was Om Puri. After City of Joy, he again played her father in The Mystic Masseur.
Now, when you see her as Queen Jamillia, matching line for line with Natalie Portman (playing Senator Padme Amidala of planet Naboo) in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, you’d find and Ayesha who has grown in maturity and confidence, far beyond her years.
But then, she is quick to
dismiss all compliments. "My costume did the acting for me,"
she says of the huge weighty headdress, decorated with bronze accents,
human hair and ten slabs of mother-of-pearl. MF