Satya Bhabha, Deepa Mehta's young lead in Midnight's Children, who now lives in the US, is struggling to find his bearings in the mythic culturally freewheeling atmosphere of Los Angeles. Contrary to the image, he says there is no escaping the cultural discrimination in Hollywood.
"Though we have television shows in America now where Asian actors don't play culture-specific parts, the lead parts in American cinema still go to Caucasian actors. I hope to see a change in that mindset," he said.
"Midnight's Children" is a big screen adaptation of Salman Rushdie's Booker Prize winning novesl of the same name and it is releasing in India Feb 1.
"Forty years ago African-American actors were eligible only for culture-specific roles. Today, a Will Smith can play the same part as an Arnold Schwarzenegger. Likewise, I hope Indian and Asian actors would be liberated of culture biases in American cinema," he added.
Satya, who has made Los Angeles his home, is already on to other pursuits. In a telephonic interview from Los Angeles, the young actor reveals he has just completed shooting a film entitled "Meteor Night".
"It's about two friends, one of them played by me, who are persuaded to meet a dying Hollywood legend on a night when they'd rather be meteor-gazing. It's a short 15-minute film. But the experience has made me hungry for more as a filmmaker," reveals Satya, and adds he is now in the process of writing a full-length feature film which he will personally direct, though not star in.
"It's the story of a progressive Iranian couple who flee their home country to America. I am not going to be in the film, obviously. I won't create roles for myself just to satiate the actor within me. As a writer and director my entire focus would be on getting my creative and emotional aesthetics in place," he said.
"Midnight's Children" has brought fame to Satya in unexpected ways. But he's honest in admitting its resonance is not to be heard in America as yet.
"It has so far opened only in Canada. And the response is very heartening. No one has expressed any puzzlement over the film's deep and complex historic perspective. That's because the film has many layers. It can be enjoyed as an adventure story about brothers separated at birth. In Canada, I am happy to say, the film is among the 10 biggest hits of the season," he said.
The rest of the world is yet to see Midnight's Children. Satya looks back on the experience as deeply satisfying.
"I came away with two lifetime friends. Deepa Mehta and I spent the longest time together shooting in Sri Lanka. We're now joined at the hip. Salman Rushdie and I came to know one another only when the film was being promoted and marketed. We've travelled to various film festivals together. And I can tell you with certainty that we're friends," he revealed.
When asked if his character Salim Sinai's famous beak nose was actually a part of the actor's own anatomy, he avers, "No, no. Not at all. That nose of Salim is the creation of marvellous prosthetics. It took hours every morning to put that nose on me. Frankly, it did restrict my facial movement a bit.
"Luckily, there was this big sneezing sequence that was finally not shot. I don't know what would have happened to my nose if I had done that scene. But the nose did give my character an identity even before I faced the camera. When I looked at the mirror with that ,nose I was comfortably transformed into the character."