US-based Indian actor Sendhil Ramamurthy, who is unhappy with his English film It's A Wonderful Afterlife being dubbed into Hindi, will make his Bollywood debut with Shor and says he has just 15 words to speak in the entire movie.
"My character is supposed to speak a smattering of bad Hindi in Shor. I have exactly 15 words in Hindi in Shor," said Sendhil, 35, best known for his role in NBC series Heroes. Shor is being produced by Ekta Kapoor.
"Trust me, I've counted them. I tried to get them to cut it down. I had 30 Hindi words to begin with. I got them reduced by half. I must be the only actor in the world who has actually asked for my lines to be cut," he added.
His 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 memorised them on my I-Pod. On my treadmill or while driving I learnt those 15 words," he said.
When Sendhil flew down here, he had a shock waiting for him. His It's A Wonderful Afterlife was being dubbed in Hindi. His thick but gracious American accent is a dead giveaway. And yet he will be seen spouting rapid fire Hindi dialogues in Gurinder Chadha's comedy.
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 subtitles," he said.
But Sendhil 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'," he said.
"I've to be realistic about what I can expect from my so-called Bollywood career. I can't play a 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."
But the actor is quite happy with It's A Wonderful Afterlife. "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."
Speaking about the extensive media exposure, Sendhil said, "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. I wouldn't be in India for the premiere of Gurinder's film. I'm really disappointed. 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.
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 in the UK when we did Gurinder's film. It's difficult to coordinate 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!"