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5 Apr, 2010 06:36

Indian nationalists demand foreign dancers be banned from Bollywood

An anti-immigrant political party in India has turned its anger on white actresses working in Bollywood because, as the activists say, local dancers and actresses are losing jobs.

On the other hand, filmmakers claim that foreigners give their movies an international look.

Bollywood is famous for its musicals, and regularly uses foreigners in its dance routines. However, if a local political party has its way, these girls will have to pack their bags very soon.

The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, or MNS, is a nationalist party that is anti-immigrant and often uses its members to spread its dogma on the streets of Mumbai. It has now called on white foreign actresses to go home.

“Most of these foreign dancers and actresses do not have work permits. They come here on tourist visas,” claimed MNS president Ameya Khopkar. “In case your script demands it, go ahead and use foreigners, but only on valid work permits. But where they are not needed, you must first employ local people.”

“Today Bollywood is one of the best film industries in the world, and you suggest foreigners are better than our people?” exclaimed Khopkar.

The MNS is feared in Bollywood, as it has the power to close cinemas. Party activists recently raided two film sets and demanded to see the work permits of over 100 foreigners. They also allegedly demanded fines from the producers.

However, in a rare case of Bollywood standing up to the MNS, the activists were arrested for extortion.

“We are living in strange times. Globalization means what? Free movement of talent and capital – that is why you call it a global village,” filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt shared his view. “And you cannot create a society that is aspiring to be looking at the global world – and yet allow yourself to gravitate towards that medieval dark value system.”

Nonetheless, many local dancers in Bollywood say they are losing work due to the influx of foreign talent.

“Everywhere you go, on the screen, on the ramp, there are more foreign models than Indians,” complained Bollywood dancer Arva Hussein, “But now it is over the top. Indians are not getting work. Indians should not be compromised for the work of foreign models, actresses or dancers.”

No foreign dancer was willing to talk to RT for fear of being targeted. Bollywood filmmakers say foreigners lack the inhibitions of the more conservative Indian dancers, and also give a film an international look.

“They are professional and they are trimmer. They bring a certain amount of freshness – that is why they have been used repeatedly,” shared Mahesh Bhatt, adding, “And the dancers of yesteryears find no place at all in the scheme of things. So their grievances are understandable, but the world has changed.”

The Indian film industry is now almost a hundred years old, but it could be facing its biggest dilemma yet. Whether or not it retains foreign talent today could well decide if it is to become an international force to reckon with in the future.