Born in Iran, brought up in Germany and having found home in the ‘maximum city’, Elnaaz Nourouzi is Made in India, the hit song by Guru Randhawa that brought her recognition in Bollywood. But it is internationally acclaimed Netflix series Sacred Games — where she essays the character of Zoya — that truly made her a household name.
It took over three years of struggle and constant effort to be where she is today. In Chandigarh for a Hindi music video shoot, Elnaaz says, “So far, it has all been about learning—the craft, culture, dance and, most importantly, learning to sustain, survive; each day. To live in a country that’s so different from where I grew up, where people don’t speak my language, has been really tough, but I love challenges.”
She calls it a beautiful mess. “SRK is the reason I am in this mess. His films inspired me to be an actress.” Being good friends with Salman Khan didn’t mean having a Godfather in the industry. Bagging Sacred Games was through auditions and it finally changed the course of her career. “I had three films that got dropped; two of them were with Salman Khan Productions. I prepared for a year and two weeks before starting the shoot, but the project was cancelled. I went into depression for six months before I auditioned for Sacred Games. Instead of looking away, I decided to be persistent.”
Constantly wired, running from one meeting to another, Elnaaz kept going, even when it meant each day ended in anxiety. Entirely opposite of what she had imagined when she took the call of moving to Mumbai. “I just knew I wanted to be an actress and that too in India. I grew up watching Hindi films and all I would imagine was doing those roles I was seeing.”
Although hard times made her take up meditation, yoga and chanting, she agrees some of it is her own doing. She was adamant to not do run-off-the-mill stuff. “I must have said no to 20 films and so many music videos because I didn’t want to simply earn money. I am fortunate to have met Salman Khan early enough in my life. He has guided me through a lot. I would discuss the offers with him.”
After doing a Pakistani film, she made her Indian film debut as Naaz Grewal in Punjabi sport drama Khido Khundi. Today, she is doing Tamil and Hindi films. Language can be a barrier for some, but it has been a blessing for her. “I know Farsi, Germany, English, French, Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi. My love for languages has really helped me. I was sure from the start that I would dub my own films.”
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