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Life in Bollywood

We catch up with 2012 graduate Sarah Noon as she tells us about her new life in Bollywood. Sarah isn’t the first DFA graduate to work there – 2010 graduate Lisa Aytoun spent her 2011 in India. Sarah’s work so far has included the Indian MTV awards and filming with the award winning Canadian actor Donald Sutherland on a 1940s film set.

Congratulations Sarah! Did you ever imagine you’d be working somewhere like Bollywood so soon after graduating?

“To be honest all through college my main worry was just getting any job at all! I’m so thankful that I’ve been this lucky and I’m very aware that many dancers struggle to get jobs at all. My agency likes taller girls and don’t tend to take on girls my height: 5 foot 6, so I was lucky with that too!”

What’s the Bollywood industry like?

It’s amazing and I’m having one of the best times of my life! I always loved performing in college and Bollywood’s very over the top and big! It’s all about using your face when you perform. I never thought I’d be able to say I’ve done half the things I have, and with it being my first job, I’m so grateful for whatever the future brings.”

Were you nervous before you left?

“I was both nervous and excited. I had no idea about anything in India, even the most simple things like what clothes I’d be able to wear out in public. I wasn’t told much before I came and, I didn’t know it, but India has everything we have in Scotland! There are very few things we can’t get out here and there’s loads of things to do on your time off and everything’s so cheap!”

Did you get to meet some of the people you’d be working with before you left Scotland?

“I didn’t meet anyone until I got off the plane and my coordinator Mahir came and picked me up. That was a bizarre moment walking out of the airport not knowing who I was looking for! Then I went to my flat and met some of the other girls. Every few months someone leaves and a new girl arrives.”

Do you spend most of your time in Mumbai, or are you travelling to other parts of India?

“For the first part of my contract I flew weekly, sometimes twice a week. I’ve flown all over India: Chennai, Jodhpur, Hyderabad, Lavasa, but at the moment there’s more work in Mumbai, so I’ve been based here for the past few weeks.”

What is a typical day like for you?

“No day is the same. I work for an agent who tells me the day before (sometimes on the day) if I have work. Indians are very laid back. One day we got told we were flying out then five minutes before we left we got told the flight was cancelled! You just learn to roll with it and take it as it comes.

I’m told beforehand if I have an audition, rehearsals or a shoot and what time I’ll be picked up or need to get to the hall for and if I need to take anything with me e.g. shoes, dresses, etc. I tend to work with girls in my agency with a similar height or hair colour to myself as most jobs want similar girls. However, if it’s a big shoot, there can be more than twenty foreign girls on the job – you get to meet loads of people!

Shoots are long – 13 hour days – but they are so much fun and at the end of the day you’re getting paid to do what you love: dance, dress up and have your hair & make-up done – I can’t complain at all! We sometimes learn the choreography on set, other times we have rehearsals for a few days before. If I don’t have work I’m free to do whatever; go to the markets, the pool, on tours etc.”

Do you have a favourite project so far?

My favourite project was doing the MTV Video Music Awards India. It was an amazing experience and seeing myself on TV was so bizarre! Only four of us got to do it, the rest of the dancers were Indian. The choreography was jazz and commercial, which are my favourite styles of dance. I also met and got to dance for the rapper T-Pain, who I love, so that was an added bonus!

I’ve been really lucky with my jobs, obviously as I’m with an agency it’s just luck what I get job wise and it depends on what’s being produced at that moment. I recently worked with the actors Donald Sutherland and Tyne Daly on a Hollywood film based here. I’ve also worked with leading lady Shilpa Shetty, travelled all around India and had loads of random shoots, like a day filming in a water park where we had a day just playing on the slides! It’s so random and so much fun!”

What do you love most about India?

I love everything about India. I’ve never met a more happy and helpful group of people. Of course having naan bread and curries whenever you want is amazing, but the country itself is beautiful and I love everyone’s laid back attitude, and how every day is different. I’m doing my dream job working in music videos and film – I’m so thankful.”

Thank you Sarah, Dance For All is happy for you and very proud as well. Principal Director Tracy Hawkes says: “Sarah’s certainly blossomed into her international career.” Well done!

Spot Sarah performing below in the trailer for the 2013 Telugu-language action film Baadshah, by critically acclaimed Indian director Srinu Vaitla.

Did you know that before the term Bollywood, there was Tollywood? Dating back to 1932, Tollywood refers to the Bengali film industry, based in Tollygunge, Kolkata (Calcutta), West Bengal. The history of cinema in Bengal dates back to the 1890s and during the 1930s was the centre of Indian cinema. Nowadays Tollywood refers to the Telugu-language film industry in the south Indian state Andhra Pradesh. Many Indian states have their own cinematic cultures, though the term Bollywood is sometimes used to refer to all Indian cinema.

Bollywood is a portmanteau derived from Bombay (the former name for Mumbai) and Hollywood. It is not a physical place, but refers to Hindi-language films which interweave song and dance with script. The term became popular in the 1970s when India overtook America as the world’s largest film producer.

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