When we look at Indian actors venturing into Hollywood, that seems like a big achievement. But what about European artists like Anna Ador who have it all prepared for Bollywood? From Bharatnatyam to Kathak to Hindi to Gujarati?
For an artist whose work has always simmered with undertones of affirmative social action, Belarus-born actor-filmmaker Anna Ador revels in the glory of playing Netaji’s wife, Emilie in -‘Bose: Dead/Alive’. The web series by ALTBalaji is about India’s most controversial and inspiring freedom fighter, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and his mysterious life and the enigmatic circumstances of his death.
She bubbles with restless energy and talks about the fun she had writing real-life letters to Rajkumar Rao, who plays her husband, Netaji, in the series. She has a candid aura around her with an honesty that is rare in a diplomatic margarine, making you feel like the fire within her is not ready to die.
It’s funny but when the trailer of Udta Punjab came out, the number of calls that I received was more than the number of calls I’ve received in my entire life.
“Playing the wife of Netaji was a huge pressure. Pressure because it’s not just another role. You’re applying things from your own life, living the way she would have lived, the way she dresses, and the way she carries herself. When Raj started preparing for the role of Netaji, there were a lot of stories, a lot of events and a lot of information about the great freedom fighter. There are a lot of movies, photographs, documentaries and books about him as well. But there’s very little information available about Emilie. So I finally found a book with the letters that Emilie and Netaji had written to each other while he was away. They wrote letters to each other for about twelve years. After that, I also worked on my accent taking help from all my German friends. I felt if I don’t get the accent right, I won’t do justice to Emilie’s character because she was from Vienna with German roots. ”
“Ideally, I came to India to study. I started doing filmmaking and worked as an assistant director and theatre,” she continues. “I love theatre. You can be anything on stage. I can be whoever I want- I can be a Gujarati, I can be an old woman or I can be a young boy. It transcends everything in the physical world whether it’s age, nationality or sex. It’s restricted in the movies.”
All these movies – ‘Udta Punjab’, ‘Fredrick’ happened back to back… I learnt Gujarati for ‘Passport’ which is a regional film. Then came my directorial venture ‘Sthir’ which is doing rounds of various film fests. 2017 gave me Yash Raj’s ‘Qaidi Band’ and ‘Gurgaon’… I’m gearing up for 2018 which awaits an international project ‘Nie Means Nie’ starring Sanjay Dutt.
She mentions that she loves comedy and drama. It’s always been about how badly she’s wanted to play the character. She doesn’t wish to be labeled as a serious actor even though all her films have been films with a social message. An actor without any label is good enough.
“In India, there’s always something happening in terms of cinema. There are international collaborations. People find Indian platforms really strong in terms of art. And it does not matter which country you are from, the colour of your skin and the language you speak.”
She claims that the industry has been a roller coaster ride for her, and she also talks about encountering exceptionally talented people who have uplifted her love for cinema. “It was a fantastic experience working with Rajkummar Rao and for Bose. We were actually there running around those real locations that existed in an era that was architecturally and culturally rich. The European streets that lived the wartime made me dreamy.” She flashes back to Rajjkumar being so good with improvisation. “There are not many actors like that, most just turn up on set with memorized scripts waiting for an instruction from the director. Raj is effortless. Bahot maza aya.”
When I had come to Mumbai, I had not been to any film set and the next day I saw myself sitting with Shahid and it took a moment for me to realize what was happening. He was perfect!
On being questioned about how she speaks Hindi so well, she mischievously replies that she learnt Kathak and Bharatnatyam since she was eight years old. “My background is a little different. My parents were in close association with Indians so I already knew about India so much. Now that I am in Bollywood, people think that I learnt Hindi to act better. I didn’t come to India to act, that happened by accident. Since I was trained in Indian classical dance in Belarus itself I was exposed to a lot of Indian cinema. When you’re a kid you absorb information very fast.”
Anna further reveals that she never felt like she had to adapt to India or to Indian culture. “I feel I’ve been home since 2011.” Also admitting to having had a veritable struggle up the ladder to recognition from Belarus-Delhi-Mumbai, weakness is something Anna has shed over the years.
“If it comes to a new place, a new country or a new idea, we all have got to surround ourselves with people we trust most. That becomes home. That becomes something we can fall back to. I have very close friends in India who work as my support system.”
She mentions that it’s exhilarating because though she had a small role in Udta Punjab it was quite impactful. “It’s funny but when the trailer of Udta Punjab came out, the number of calls that I received was more than the number of calls I’ve received in my entire life.” She adds that it is impractical to wait for that one break. “We can’t wait for that big role. Or say things like I am gonna save my life for that big break. I feel all of this is practice for us. When I had come to Mumbai, I had not been to any film set and the next day I saw myself sitting with Shahid and it took a moment for me to realize what was happening. He was perfect!” She reminisces about getting her break through her childhood idol, Shahid Kapoor. She makes a quick list of all his movies that she watched and the songs that she danced to as a child.
So it was Udta Punjab that kept you in the public eye? “Acting happened after I relocated to Mumbai from Delhi. All these movies – ‘Udta Punjab’, ‘Fredrick’ happened back to back. In the beginning, I was just exploring myself. I learnt Gujarati for ‘Passport’ which is a regional film. Then came my directorial venture ‘Sthir’ which is doing rounds of various film fests. 2017 gave me Yash Raj’s ‘Qaidi Band’ and ‘Gurgaon’. Playing all these characters have held me. In the background I was dabbling with a lot of things – modelling, directing, theatre. That has given me a better understanding of both acting and direction.”
2017 marked as a great year for her and she wishes for every year to be like this. She says she’s gearing up for 2018 which awaits an international project ‘Nie Means Nie’ starring Sanjay Dutt.
“All of this and lots of work, but only after a short vacation to South Asia and no work for Christmas”, she grins.
“There are lots of perverts in the industry. You have to be careful or you’d end up doing things that you would regret. So this random j*rk had texted me saying that he needed bold models for an upcoming project. On being questioned about what ‘bold’ meant, he clearly told me that if I compromise with the director, I’ll get the job. It is sad that such indecent proposals are still made despite you doing good work, despite you working hard.”
While it all seems surreal, Anna brings us back to reality with a grinding halt. We ask her about the casting couch situation prevalent in the industry and she narrates a recent encounter with aggravated spirits. “There are lots of perverts in the industry. You have to be careful or you’d end up doing things that you would regret. So this random j*rk had texted me saying that he needed bold models for an upcoming project. On being questioned about what ‘bold’ meant, he clearly told me that if I compromise with the director, I’ll get the job. It is sad that such indecent proposals are still made despite you doing good work, despite you working hard. I have more to myself than just a face and just a body.“ Her courage to post about the matter in social media brings it under the public eye and she says that as women we need to fight for ourselves. “It is a pedestal where we are put to test and there will be a myriad of uncomfortable situations, but what we do next defines us as human beings. It is sad that young girls still fall victim to the situation. This is an issue spoken about on such a high level, but maybe being there as a strong support system and the power to say no can narrow it down.”
It becomes clear from the notes of steely confidence in her voice that she’s not ready to give up. Her firmness seems to come as second skin to her, and her action proves it.
She mellows down by a bit as though wanting to say so much but just mumbles, “You know, India has given me the best years of my young life. There is no other place that I would want to be.”