The appeal of Indian cinema has grown in Thailand in recent years and at least two Thai actresses are now trying to gain a toehold in Bollywood.
Savika "Pinky" Chaiyadej, a top actress in Thai cinema, has already acted in two regional Tamil and Telugu films in India and is now signed up for two other Hindi movies. Jariya Somboon, a Likay artist who goes by the stage name Ann Mitchai, figured in the Hindi romance Ishk Actually and is preparing to release her first Thai-Indian fusion music album Superstar.
"Most Thai movie stars want to act in Bollywood and Pinky's dream is also to act in Hindi cinema. She is signed with me for two more movies and we are both waiting to begin shooting," says Sudhir Pudhota, who produced the Telugu-language Emo Gurram Egaraa Vachchu (Who Knows the Horse May Fly) in which Savika played the lead opposite a South Indian actor. Pudhota, a friend of Savika, is known to acquaintances in Bangkok as "John".
Emo Gurram Egaraa Vachchu, released in January last year, did not do well at the box office. Savika's debut movie, a Tamil-language production called Markandeyan and released in 2012, also failed to make the cash registers jingle.
Ishk Actually, a Hindi movie released in October 2013, in which Ann sang two songs apart from acting in a small role, also proved to be a dud.
Savika 'Pinky' Chaiyadej has acted in the Telugu-language film (above) and the Tamil-language production , and currently has two Hindi movies in the pipeline.
Yet none of Savika's and Ann's co-stars and directors holds them responsible for the failures. On the contrary, they are quite impressed with the Thai entertainers' acting prowess and singing capabilities.
"Ann is a hard-working woman, committed, a good dancer and pretty. She can look an Asian woman and is a good singer. I was happily surprised by her song in Hindi," says Rajeev Khandelwal, a film and television artist, who played one of the male leads in Ishk Actually. In a conversation with Asia Focus, Khandelwal said Ann was "more than welcome" to make a career in Bollywood.
Ann, who has signed with Approach Entertainment, a celebrity management and film marketing firm, wishes to blend Likay with Indian culture. She was out of the country and unavailable for comment.
Chandra Siddhartha, the director of Emo Gurram Egaraa Vachchu, also said that Savika acquitted herself well playing an Indian girl returned from the United States. "Pinky spoke Telugu and emoted so well that nobody could make out that she was a Thai girl. She is a very good performer," he said.
Siddhartha said he selected Savika because he was looking for a "new face" for his film. "I saw her face on a magazine cover in Bangkok and quite liked her. A friend arranged my meeting with her. We shot half of our film in Thailand and were given concessions."
In an interview with Asia Focus, he attributed the failure of the film to a last-minute delay in its release. "The film was to be released on Oct 24 but could hit the marquee only a day later. It was a blunder and jumbled up show timings." Pudhota blamed lack of promotion for the failure of Markandeyan.
In both the Telugu and the Tamil movies Savika was given her dialogue in English, the way it is done for many other North Indian actresses who cannot speak South Indian languages. Siddhartha said he would love to cast Savika again.
When asked why Savika had not yet made her mark in Bollywood, Siddartha said that she did not get lead roles and also the money offered in Mumbai was much less than what she commanded in Bangkok. "She had a quite a few offers. But there were monetary issues. She is a much bigger actor back home and earning much more there," he says.
However, he is sure that despite her marriage to Pattaya millionaire Itthi "Petch" Chavalittamrong in September last year, Savika will not say no to acting in Bollywood. "She is still interested in doing Hindi films," he says. The actress was said to be touring Germany and could not be reached for comment.
Savika, 28, has been a familiar face to Thais ever since her debut at age 8 opposite an ape in a Sony Trinitron commercial. Her first major screen success was with actor Veeraparb "Vee" Suparbpaiboon.
Ann Mitchai hails from a family of Likay performers, among them her elder brother Chaiya. Ann started out in Likay at age 5 and has done live shows in almost every province of Thailand.
Likay may have derived some of its elements from Indian dance traditions as both forms feature actors expressing their emotions with gestures.
Indian cinema is the fifth largest market in the world after China, Japan, France and the United Kingdom. In 2013, the Indian motion picture and television industry contributed US$8.1 billion to the national exchequer. It supported 1.8 million jobs and contributed 0.5% to gross domestic product (GDP). India overtook America as the largest film producer in 1970, when the term Bollywood was first heard.
Bollywood produces on average around 1,000 films in a year. Apart from Hindi, films are made in Gujarati, Marathi, Malayalam, Punjabi, Assamese, Bengali, Tamil, Kannada and Telugu languages.
Besides producing its actors from within India, Bollywood attracts large pools of talent from countries including Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal, along with overseas Indians from the United Kingdom and the United States.
Hindi films are hugely popular in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Nepal, Gulf countries and all other areas where Indians have a sizeable population. Many people in the Gulf states, Afghanistan and Iran learn their broken Hindi by watching Indian films on television and videos.
There are many actresses in Bollywood such as Katrina Kaif, Jacqueline Fernandez and Nargis Fakhri who have learned Hindi only after joining the industry in Mumbai, and to this day their heavy accents are noticeable.
Ishk Actually movie poster featuring Ann MItchai