When this week American NRI actor Sendhil Ramamurthy flew down to Mumbai he had a shock waiting for him. His first Indian film It's A Wonderful Afterlife is being dubbed into Hindi. Sendhil's thick but gracious American accent is a dead giveaway. He is not at all familiar with Hindi. And yet he will be seen spouting rapid fire Hindi dialogues in It's A Wonderful Afterlife.
He doesn't hesitate in expressing his displeasure. "I just heard about the dubbed version. I kinda hate it. I didn't know there was going to be a Hindi version. I'm surprised and not too happy to hear that I will be speaking in Hindi. I've heard myself speak in French, Japanese, Polish... and so many other languages that my serial Heroes was dubbed in. It sounds weird. It takes away from the performance. Now I'm about to hear myself in Hindi. I wish they just had Hindi sub-titles."
Sendhil's first Bollywood film Shor, produced by Ekta Kapoor, has him speaking in English. "My character is supposed to speak a smattering of bad Hindi in Shor. I have exactly fifteen words in Hindi in Shor. Trust me, I've counted them. I tried to get them to cut it down. I had thirty Hindi words to begin with. I campaigned to get them reduced by half. I must be the only actor in the world who has actually asked for my lines to be cut."
Sendhil says he doesn't see any incongruity in being a Bollywood actor who can't speak Hindi. "When I was here the last time my producer Ekta Kapoor had thrown a party for me to meet the Bollywood actors and actresses. When I apologetically confessed that I didn't speak in Hindi, they said, 'Neither do we.' I've to be realistic about what I can expect from my so-called Bollywood career. I can't play fluent Hindi-speaking hero. I wasn't born and raised in India. So a full-fledged Bollywood career is just not going to happen. But there're so many kinds of films being made in Bollywood."
Sendhil's second language is Kannada since his father is from Karnataka. "My mother is Tamil. My dad is Kannada. I can barely manage Kannada. I don't know Hindi at all. For those 15 words in Shor, I got a Hindi coach to tutor me and then I memorized them on my I-Pod. On my treadmill or while driving I learnt those fifteen words."
Speaking about the extensive media exposure, Sendhil says, "I do have a responsibility to promote a film when I am in it. And I've to rush back to start work on a new American television serial Covert Affairs from April 20. I wouldn't be in India for the premiere of Gurinder's film. I'm really disappointed. I wanted to be here for the premiere. I tried to accommodate it."
In Covert Affairs, Sendhil plays the male lead. "I get to play a character very different from what I play in Heroes. It's a childhood fantasy come-true. I'll be running around shooting guns. I don't only get to play out an action fantasy I get paid for it. I'm excited because I play an American CIA agent. It isn't an Indian character. I'm trying not to do culture-specific roles. It's very difficult.
Speaking on It's A Wonderful Afterlife, Sendhil says, "It's a fun film. I hope people will enjoy it. Nobody can accuse Gurinder of making the same film twice."
Sendhil is all praise for his co-star Shabana Azmi. "Shabana and I have kept in touch after shooting. My parents are her huge fans. When I was shooting with her in the UK they actually flew over from the United States to meet her. Shabana was so warm and generous with my parents."
Sendhil is married to actress Olga Sosnovska. "I met her in London at drama school. She's British-Polish. We have two children. I make sure the family travels with me when I'm shooting outside the US. They were with me the whole time in the UK when we did Gurinder's film. It's difficult to co-ordinate their schedules with mine. Luckily I've the means to fly them wherever I am."
Sendhil is pleased with his children's cosmopolitan upbringing. "They speak Polish with my wife. They go to a French school. And my parents speak to them in Kannada. So either my children are going to be amazingly cosmopolitan, or they'll just be confused. I'll let you know."