By Martin D’Souza | Opening Doorz Editorial | August 21, 2018
Tu me manques, reads the tattoo on the side of her left forearm. It cannot be missed when Anisa Butt sits to converse. Obviously, the first question is directed towards the tattoo and its meaning. “It’s French and it means ‘You Are Missing In Me’, she smiles. “In French you don’t say ‘I Miss You’.”
Who she is missing is the natural second question. Anisa laughs heartily throwing light on the meaning of the tattoo for her. “For me, it’s this constant conflict because obviously I pretty much have ended up shifting to a different country which has become quite a permanent thing. Ninety percent of my time I now spend in India. I miss my family when I am over here, and when I am over there, I miss people over here. So I feel like I’m connected to both cities and it has kept me in a conflicted space in my emotions.”
Welcome to the world of Anisa Butt, Bollywood actor from the UK who has made Mumbai her base, but who is now contemplating on where her craft will take her next.
Anisa, who made her mark with Ishaan on television in 2010 and was seen in a handful of films will now be seen in It’s A Girl, a film that has recently wrapped up its post-production work and will be doing the round in Los Angeles, New York and London on the Festival circuit.
“I feel very proud to be a part of this film because it has a strong message and is close to my heart. This subject (female foeticide) is something that definitely should not exist. I really hope that the film can be used as a campaign to raise awareness. So many people need to be re-educated in India, people who don’t have that kind of understanding that this is no longer acceptable,” says Anisa about the strong content of the film.
Opening Doorz caught up with the actor, who spoke about the film, and how she moved from London to India!
Firstly, tell us something about It’s A Girl…
It’s a festival film and has been selected for quite a few festivals. It essentially came about because Mehnaaz Nadiadwala, who has written a book with the same title, was told by a lot of people who read the book that she should make this into a feature film. It’s not really a commercial film; it’s a social cause so she decided to make it in the short film format. I did not know the issue related to female foeticide in this country is at such a high rate. It’s quite a big thing and I think for the West it’s quite shocking and not many people are aware of it. Just getting to know more about it here and the perception about the female child was quite enlightening for me. The film has a really important message.
How did you bag a role in the film?
I have done a feature film with the director Simmer Bhatia before (Night Encounters). She believes in giving new talent a chance.
Coming back to your landing into India, how did it come about?
My passion for dance is what got me to look towards Hindi cinema. At the age of 12 I had decided I wanted to act. I remember that very vividly. I did not know where that would be. I think India took a turn of its own. It happened because I tested for a Bollywood film in London Always Kabhie Kabhie. They selected me from my London audition and flew me to India for my look test. I passed the look test and also did a workshop but unfortunately things don’t work by the book over here [laughs]. The people who were involved in the project were apologetic saying they had to step away because of producers and directors.
Your Bollywood career has not really taken off. How are you planning to circumvent this?
When you first come to Mumbai, you are an over-enthusiastic actor and you have all these big dreams that you have come to realize in this city. However, I have realized that there is a way of working here and there is definitely a lot of nepotism in the industry. Anyone who says there isn’t is probably lying.
This has been your biggest stumbling block, Nepotism?
Nepotism does frustrate you, there’s no point putting on a façade and say something different to how it is. For every actor, it becomes frustrating. Star kids have an advantage in the sense they get multiple opportunities to show their skill. Newcomers would get just one chance or a second chance and then that’s it. You no longer become saleable. I’m not saying it is easy for them (star kids), everyone has to work hard, but their access is easy.
Secondly I think it’s always going to be hard for someone from outside. The language is not the same, culture is not the same, everything in different. There is a lot of baggage which you carry which you can’t do anything about because that’s how you are. You look a different way. There are a lot of people who have told me ‘we like you but you don’t look Indian enough’. I can’t do anything about this so you have to let go and understand that not everything is in your control. Yes, I have learnt Hindi. Yes, I have worked with a diction coach and am trying to get better at the language because I think that is a skill one needs to have. The challenge for me I have understood is that no one is going to cast me as a Bihari girl!
So what’s your game-plan? Are you meeting newer people?
I think it’s how good you play the game, how you are able to make your connections that matters. For me, I have always wanted to concentrate on my craft as an actor; it was never in the back of my head to necessarily be a star. Being a star is the result of the work that you are doing. The goal was just to ensure that all the work that I do I put in a 100 per cent, and I’m good at it.
It’s also about being at the right place at the right time, you never know what is going to click. But for me I think essentially that now I understand from a very objective perspective, this is what it is and I’m still going to try hard, I’m still going to meet people who are on the same sort of wavelength.
Have you met people of your wavelength?
[Smiles] A few weeks ago I met a filmmaker, she is not from India but is working with people from India and they are doing interesting work. She is more focused on doing independent films for the festival circuit. That excites me because it ultimately creates roles, which enables a performer to perform. It’s not just about me looking pretty and dancing and being able to be the hot girl or the girl-next-door. It’s being able to really perform and do something I have not been able to do.
How long are you willing to give yourself a chance in India to actually make an impact, considering you are facing so many roadblocks?
I don’t believe in giving up. If you are really, truly passionate about something and you have put in time and effort and you are dedicated, there’s no question of giving up. You want to be in a place which enables you to do your best work.
Any time-frame you have given yourself?
I do want to do interesting work with a whole bunch of filmmakers anywhere… wherever the work is. It’s not in my head that I just want to work in India, I just want to work. I think you need to be a bit of a nomad in that respect and go where you are needed. So for me there is no specific timeline as such.