Lin Laishram’s first stint with Bollywood happened about a decade ago when she was cast for a cameo appearance  for ‘Om Shanti Om’ as Shah Rukh Khan’s friend.

Lin had taken an audition with director Omung Kumar and was chosen as the lead role in Mary Kom, a biopic based on Manipuri boxer and world champion MC Mary Kom which finally went to Priyanka Chopra.

Lin Laishram was still in college back then, but it made her realize where she was meant to be. She then embarked on a journey to pursue her celluloid dream. Since then, Lin has landed up in roles that were associated with big production groups. From ‘Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola’ to ‘Mary Kom’ to ‘Rangoon’ to YRF’s ‘Qaidi Band’. The Manipuri beauty has worked in Naseeruddin Shah’s theatre group Rangbaaz and has also walked the ramp for designers like Tarun Tahiliani and Shantanu-Nikhil. If that wasn’t enough, she has studied at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York. Lin has also featured in many South Asian ad commercials.

In our conversation with her, the inspiring woman from Manipur opens up about her struggles and offers her take on the clichés of Bollywood and how the industry treats artists from Northeast.

I think I was about fifteen years old when the accident happened. The accident led to an extended arm and that was the worst nightmare for an archer.

Lin gets all chatty and tells us how she is an extremely simple person who somehow ends up complicating things, all the time. She is extremely comfortable in her own skin, does not enjoy high profile parties and is quite reserved that way. She says,

“I don’t think I ever saw myself as the heroine material. I belong to a small town in Manipur and I had no touch with the glamour world. I was always an athlete but somehow because of a certain accident, it crushed my career in sports. I was very young and frustrated. Acting was just a way of venting out my emotions and giving an expression to all my frustration and internal tremors. I somehow owe it all to destiny. My journey started with the Elite Modelling Agency and they liked my work, selected me and everything else is history. It was never a part of the “plan”. In fact I come from a family of academicians and all my friends, extended family members, my then boyfriend who was a photographer discouraged me from joining the industry.”

At the beginning of her career, Lin was the brand ambassador of Ozuru that was the one of the biggest and the best selling diamond jewellery company. She adds,

“I actually had no plans of moving to the US either, but again, I ended up staying for about three years.”

I always supported Irom Sharmila and have always thought highly of her… I think she contested from a wrong constituency… People were expecting her to go hungry forever, and it was funny because people got angry when she broke the fast after sixteen years. That’s not the way you treat people.

Lin had taken an audition with director Omung Kumar and was chosen as the lead role in Mary Kom, a biopic based on Manipuri boxer and world champion MC Mary Kom which finally went to Priyanka Chopra. Lin then bagged the role of Mary’s boxer friend and sparring partner. She states,

“You see, we need to realize that this is a whole business game, and there are many things that Bollywood cares about. However, if a good director dares to take someone from the region as a lead, and if the film does well, then others would follow that trend and start casting us and considering us for lead roles or roles that have more substance to it. Danny Sir was cast in numerous films in strong pivotal roles and because of the opportunities, he proved his worth. He was as big a name as any of his contemporaries like Amitabh Bachchan, Rajendra Kumar, Vinod Khanna and Dharmendra. Unless we are given opportunities, we won’t be able to discover ourselves and prove our worth. Corporate heads, producers and directors need to be more open towards us and give us that platform.”

She then speaks about her close friend and the lead of Anurag Kashyap’sMukkabaaz‘, Vineet. She says that the talented actor broke all stereotypes of the “Bollywood lead”, by sheer dedication and hard work.
“He was able to break all the biases and emerge as a winner. The timing needs to be right and you have to hit the nail while it is hot.”

While the actress seems really busy, one of her projects includes a film with Nicholas Kharkongor. The film stars Lin and Kalki as two primary characters. Nicholas has directed indie gems like ‘Mantra’ starring Rajat Kapoor, Kalki, Adil Hussain, Lushin Dubey and Shiv Pandit.

Among a few actors from the northeastern region in Bollywood, Lin has been a part of n number of commercials in India, and abroad. She has also earned fame and recognition in New York, Chicago and Toronto. With time, her perspectives have broadened and so have her dreams. She remains quite unfazed and prefers to take things as they come.

Even though it seems all glittery and sparkled now, things weren’t this way always. She opens up over dealing with disappointments and living with the truth that she would never be able to fulfil her childhood dream.

“I think I was about fifteen when the accident happened. The accident led to an extended arm and that was the worst nightmare for an archer. Because of that, I could no longer play. I remember leaving my house when I was nine for Tata Academy and everything in my life just revolved around the sport. Back then, I knew I wanted to do archery all my life. I was just preparing to leave for Germany to compete for World Cup in the sub-junior category. All of a sudden, my world turned upside down and I had to give up on my dream. After the accident, everything that has ever happened is nothing but an adjustment. But I learnt it the hard way and I survived. I still have a lot of friends who have completely dedicated their lives to sports, and it makes me feel happy.”

Lin confesses after her failed career in sports, acting happened my fate or sheer encounter of luck. Her debut performance as an actor was through a play called ‘Pillars Of The Community’ by Henrik Ibsen. She says that though the play did not have any commercial gain, it turned out to be one of the most influential decisions of her lifetime. Soon after, she joined Naseeruddin Shah’s theatre group and ended up fetching the “actress” from her personality. Lin also came to the realization that the struggles and circumstances that she encountered made her a better actor. Though she wants to be recognized as a serious actor, she also believes that she’d do a good job at comedy because she has a natural inclination towards the particular genre.

The model, who has now made Mumbai her home says that she enjoyed watching Rima Das‘ ‘Village Rockstars‘. While most regional directors understand the psychology and culture of their regions, she also feels that most filmmakers are getting carried away by Bollywood, so much so that they lose their originality.

I have hardly worked in regional films but I have never received threat calls. In fact, I think they love me. They have always supported me and have loved my work. I get very encouraging messages from people in Manipur.

“Though there are few filmmakers who have made wonderful cross-cultural movies. Shekhar Kapur is one brilliant director who comes to my mind. He directed ‘Masoom’, ‘Mr India’, ‘Bandit Queen’, and then moved to London and made ‘Elizabeth’ and totally swept the international awards in various categories and also earned a critical and commercial success. You have to really understand the grammar of filmmaking as well as understand the psychology that connects and binds to the audiences. Cinema doesn’t have any language, so if you are making a good film, people are bound to watch it. Manipuri directors like Aribam Syam Sharma, Binodini, know the crux of filmmaking and their films have done rounds of various film festivals. Then there is Rima Das and Paban whose film is on Netflix. Their stories are simple yet intriguing. If you excel in your space, people can connect to you better. That is your niche. If you don’t understand your own language, your culture, your lifestyle and your people, then what are you going to create out of it? How are you going to understand the lives of other people living elsewhere? And how are you going to make a film on other people who you don’t understand? Originality is something that really sticks its ground. There is no need to be carried away by Bollywood. We are so influenced by Bollywood, that we don’t show our original content anymore. I suggest the actors do a couple of workshops and the creatives should do some background research.”

If we delve into deeper perspective, there are ongoing political conflicts in Manipur that combine elements of a national liberation war with ethnic conflicts. During another interview, popular actor Bala Hijam confessed to being banned outside Manipuri films, Lin quite sternly disagrees.

“I have hardly worked in regional films but I have never received threat calls. In fact, I think they love me. They have always supported me and have loved my work. I get very encouraging messages from people in Manipur. It is amazing and really wonderful. Not just me, but another Manipuri actor Bijou Thangjaam is also of the same opinion. Because of the love and support that we have received, we were planning on making NE groups in Mumbai as well. We want to connect to our own people. At the same time, I would love to do regional films, provided it is a good role and the content is great. I had seen a Manipuri film a few years back called ‘Mami Sami’. I fell in love with the film and with the innocence of the lead actors. Sadananda and Binota’s dialogue delivery is on point. It’s heartwarming and I would love to be a part of a film like this.”

Cinema doesn’t have any language, so if you are making a good film, people are bound to watch it. Manipuri directors like Aribam Syam Sharma, Binodini, know the crux of filmmaking and their films have done rounds of various film festivals. Then there is Rima Das and Paban whose film is on Netflix. Their stories are simple yet intriguing. If you excel in your space, people can connect to you better. That is your niche.

There is so much to say about this multi-dimensional actor. There is always so much happening and her life seems to run in circles. From baseless rumours floating in the clouds to her admiration for Irom Sharmila, from her film in Netflix to her upcoming movie that will feature Dipanita Sharma and Milind Suman. While the actress seems really busy, one of her projects also includes a film with Nicholas Kharkongor. The film stars Lin and Kalki as two primary characters. Nicholas has directed indie gem like ‘Mantra’ starring Rajat Kapoor, Kalki, Adil Hussain, Lushin Dubey and Shiv Pandit.

Professional work aside, the actor is also an active supporter of social issues and has always been driven by issues like drug abuse, the homeless and underprivileged. Among the lesser-known facts about Lin is her decade-year-old friendship with Vishal Bhardwaj and her creative guide, Neeraj Kabi. They have been strong support systems in Mumbai and have behaved like family members to Lin.

“There is so much that has happened and is happening lately. My first Netflix release was an indie film with Prateik called ‘Umrika’. Also, ‘Ticket to Bollywood‘ didn’t happen because, after a couple of workshops, it got shelved. I don’t think ‘Chalo China’ that is a sequel to ‘Chalo Dilli’ is happening anytime soon because Lara Dutta has different production plans. I am also doing two NE films and one commercial Bollywood film. But I don’t want to announce anything now because I am not allowed to speak about it yet.”

While the actor preferred not to speak much about her dating rumours with Randeep Hooda, we also questioned her about her suicide rumour. She responds,

“I was laughing when I got to know. A number of people messaged me and a lot of people called but I was working out in the gym so I didn’t pick up the calls for a really long time, and they all assumed thought I was dead. It didn’t affect me much until people started crying and calling me. I was taken aback when I realized that people really care and love me so much.

As our conversations got deeper, Lin spoke up about a number of issues related to Bollywood. Luck, struggle, glamour, stardom and fortune aside, she also gave an insight into the worst kept secret in Bollywood – the “casting couch”. Most people, especially the outsiders are unaware of its extent; the extent of the “c” element in casting couch- criminal and controversial. As a result, they have no idea about the level of depravity going on in the industry. Many times the vulnerable young stars are made to feel that if they refused it would be detrimental to their career. We pushed forward the conversation and asked her opinion on the casting couch situation prevalent in the industry and she responded,
“It doesn’t happen like, “hey you want to be on my film then come jump on the couch”. It is a slow process. I have experienced this and yes I have had bad experiences, but I decided to go against it and step out of it. The moment I smell something fishy, it is a goodbye from my end. You have to be smart enough to say no to certain things and have your back when nobody does. Saying “no” is sometimes the wisest thing to do. We need to empower women and give them strong roles and strong positions of power and things like this will cease to exist.”

We would have loved to stretch the conversation further, but in conclusion, we spoke about women empowerment and the first thing that struck our mind was Lin’s admiration for Irom Chanu Sharmila, civil rights activist, political activist, and poet who is also known as the “Iron Lady” of Manipur. Irom had gone on a hunger strike that lasted for 16 years of her life. Going against those who went on to shame Sharmila after she broke her fast, the actor lent her perspective to the much-discussed topic,
“I always supported her and have always thought highly of her. I could really connect with her on a personal level. She is a pure soul and I have pure regards for her. I really enjoy talking to her and talking about her. I think she contested from a wrong constituency. And politics is a different game. You just cannot become a politician just like that even though you deserve to be. You have to be a good actor, an orator, and you have to have the skills that could run a state. Being a good human does not make you a good leader. Irom did not have any political background and it is unfortunate that she lost. People were expecting her to go hungry forever, and it was funny because people got angry when she broke the fast after sixteen years. That’s not the way you treat people. I think Irom is a woman who deserves dignity and she deserves to be respected. She had started the world’s longest fast at the age of 28. She is an icon of resistance of North-East India.”

For someone who hit off towards pursuing her career really early, Lin has learnt from the many knocks she has got from life. Today, she has learnt to be more accommodating and has often voiced her opinion on important issues. We just hope that she stops getting underutilized in Bollywood and battles the perception that people from northeast simply deserve a secondary space in Tinseltown. We wish her luck and we expect to watch her play characters beyond stereotypical roles that are offered to actors from Northeast, India.

 

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