Long before “Jai Ho” entered the international lexicon, the gap between Hollywood and Bollywood had already been shrinking. In distinctly Western style, much of the action has occurred behind the scenes: Indian cable TV magnate and Bollywood producer Ronnie Screwvala’s UTV Software Communications has co-produced the latest Hollywood films from Indian filmmakers M. Night Shyamalan (“The Happening”) and Mira Nair (“The Namesake”), in addition to making financing deals with Sony and Will Smith’s production company Overbrook Entertainment; Disney and Warner Brothers have begun to finance their own Bollywood productions; and last year, Reliance, one of India’s biggest producer of Bollywood films, made production pacts with the companies of Nicolas Cage, George Clooney and Brad Pitt before making their biggest coup — financing DreamWorks, an investment that allowed the Steven Spielberg-led studio to leave its deal at Paramount.
However, Hollywood and Bollywood have been a little less quick to embrace putting their stars in each other’s movies, though the road from Mumbai to Melrose is getting shorter by the day. It’s gotten to the point in pop culture where Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan can introduce “Slumdog Millionaire” at this year’s Golden Globes and Natalie Portman can play a Bollywood princess in her then-boyfriend Devendra Banhart’s music video “Carmensita” without anyone batting a curled eyelash. As for actual feature films, here are a few examples of when East has met West in recent years:
Aishwarya Rai in “Bride and Prejudice”
If there’s been any actor or actress poised to crossover from Bollywood into Hollywood, Aishwarya Rai has been the leading candidate for years. Having already been deigned the most beautiful woman in the world by none other than Julia Roberts, the Bombay bombshell has been slumming it in bit parts in big-budget Western flops like “The Pink Panther 2” and the epic “The Last Legion” in between Bollywood jobs, yet her best shot so far at conquering Hollywood came with the lead in Gurinder Chadha’s 2004 musical take on Jane Austen’s classic. Fresh off the surprising success of “Bend it Like Beckham,” Chadha had the leverage to shoot a Bollywood-style romp on Miramax’s dime and cast the largely unknown-in-America Rai as Elizabeth Bennet stand-in Lalita C. Bakshi opposite then up-and-comers Martin Henderson and Alexis Bledel. Not surprisingly, the film grossed nearly triple overseas what it did domestically, but the disappointing U.S. box office didn’t prevent Chadha from pushing Rai further onto Western audiences with a film that her husband (Paul Mayeda Berges) directed, the little-seen 2005 fantasy “The Mistress of Spices,” which starred Rai and Dylan McDermott.
Sylvester Stallone in “Kambakkht Ishq”
Audiences will have to wait until “The Expendables” to see Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the same frame of celluloid, but the Bollywood buzz machine worked overtime to spread rumors of the first onscreen collaboration between ’80s action icons in the 2009 Indian action comedy. It proved too good to be true, as only Stallone could commit to a cameo in the Akshay Kumar starrer (much of which can be seen in the film’s trailer), in which Kumar plays a stunt double looking for love as his career in the West takes off, appropriately enough, with a gig as Brandon Routh’s stunt double in “Superman.” Routh appears as himself, as does Denise Richards, who was reportedly so thrilled with the experience she told the Times Online, “Bollywood is so unexpectedly awesome!” Audiences will be able to decide for themselves when the film unspools internationally in August.
Ali Larter in “Marigold”
If you’re ever trolling the aisles of Blockbuster and notice “Heroes” star Ali Larter on a box cover in full-on Indian regalia, you’ve stumbled onto “Playing By Heart” director Willard Carroll’s attempt to “bridge the gap between Indian and American cinema.” Sadly, the film never scarcely made it to theaters, but does hold the distinction of being the first to bring American stars to Bollywood, as well as feature one of the latter’s biggest stars, Salman Khan, in the lead. Larter plays an actress stranded in Goa after she believes she’s been cast in one film and winds up with only a bit part in a Bollywood musical, with Kahn playing the musical’s choreographer who helps her with more than her moves. But don’t let your mind wander too far — Khan only agreed to take the part if the kissing scenes were excised, something that the star is still averse of even when starring opposite Bollywood starlets.