Nora Fatehi on Batla House, Street Dancer 3D, Pachtaoge, and on going beyond the 'item numbers'
Noha Fatehi claims she does not want to limit her Bollywood stint to 'item songs, and want to be recognised for performance-oriented roles.
For ‘Dilbar’ sensation Nora Fatehi, the Canadian-Moroccan model-dancer-actress (of Indo-Arabic descent), who grew up watching Bollywood movies, her dream to become an actress does not remain distant anymore as her recent outing in Batla House, the upcoming Street Dancer 3D (with Varun Dhawan and Shraddha Kapoor), and the just released music video, 'Pachtaoge' opposite Vicky Kaushal, gives her ample scope to perform, and that too, with some of the top names in the Hindi film industry.
After several chartbusters to her credit (the videos of her three songs, ‘Dilbar’ from Satyamev Jayate, ‘Kamariya’ from Stree, and ‘O Saki Saki’ from Batla House have collectively garnered more than a billion views on YouTube), what she is now looking forward to is more consistency and a stronger foothold as an actress.
“I came to India to become an actor and had no inclination of becoming a dancer. I never thought this whole dance sensation thing would happen because I am not a trained dancer. Belly dancing is normal in my culture, and I learnt it just by watching some professional performers on YouTube. And when I started off in Bollywood doing acting roles, like in Roar: Tigers of the Sunderbans, A Crazy Kukkad Family, and most recently, My Birthday Song, these films didn’t give me that kind of recognition, and I knew I have to find a different path to reach my goal,” says the 27-year-old Nora.
Sharp and quick-witted Nora, without any godfather, had understood how the industry functions. After a bit, she started picking up songs in a number of movies across film industries. Besides Rocky Handsome and Mr X here in Bollywood, she headed South, and made appearances in songs with superstars like Prabhas in Baahubali: The Beginning ('Manohari'), with Jr NTR in Telugu action flick Temper, and was also in a few Telugu movies such as Kick 2, Sher, and Loafer. Further, her appearance in reality shows like Bigg Boss and Jhalak Dikhlla Ja earned her more recognition.
“For an outsider, it is difficult to survive in this industry, which is common knowledge for everybody. If you don’t have a good network then finding the right opportunities, and convincing people to take your audition is very hard. And then you're bullied at the auditions, and even duped by casting agents,” says Nora. “On one hand, you are competing with other outsiders, some of who are very good-looking and talented, and on the other hand, you have to compete with industry kids, star kids, and also their cousins (laughs). It is a scary and intimidating world. But what really takes you out of that intimidation would be a lot of focus and hard work, perseverance, and determination. If you really believe in yourself then you can face anything. But you have to make a lot of sacrifices, like your relationships, family time, personal life, social life, just about everything.”
“In South, songs are crazy, the beats, music, and even the way they choreograph. They don’t look at the item songs as sexy, titillating numbers but they look at it as heavy, high-octane dance numbers. A lot of their actors, like Allu Arjun, Jr NTR dance like mad. They are so good at their dance abilities, and when they do a song with a girl, it is choreographed in such a way that the girl should match their steps. I loved the kind of hard-hitting steps they were giving me. It was lifting the song and making audience go crazy. So I had decided that if I ever get a song in Hindi cinema, it has to be of this kind.”
While ‘Dilbar’ can be called as the turning point in Nora’s career, she was initially a bit apprehensive of recreating an already hit number from the '90s. “And that was the time when the recreated version of ‘Ek Do Teen’ was being trashed. I was scared because I didn’t want people to say that why you are giving me a new one, let’s go back to the old. Doing a remake is very hard, and it is the artist who is bashed up. But ‘Dilbar’ turned out to be a massive success, and it put me on the map. Soon after, ‘Kamariya’ released, and a lot more doors opened up for me, even outside India. I made my own song ‘Dilbar’ in Arabic, which I ended up producing myself. I also got the singers to collaborate, and sing with me. The whole market opened up, and I had a new fan following. I have another song, which I will be releasing in a few weeks, which I have produced and signed with an international artist. So while I am doing my stuff here, I am simultaneously doing business internationally,” she says, with excitement in her voice palpable.
Though the ‘item girl’ tag has offended many, and it has often been called derogatory by actor-performers, Nora remains indifferent to it, claiming now that she has made a mark as a performing artist, she is not approached for ‘item’ numbers. “Filmmakers don’t come to me for just the titillating stuff. They come to me for performance-oriented songs. When I dance, I dance with a lot of power and energy, so my moves don’t look vulgar. For instance, ‘Manohari’ was very artistically done, and its singing matched our facial expressions. My intention is to keep it entertaining and fun, and I am happy that people have translated that into a positive thing,” she says.
“Naturally if you look hot, you can’t control that. Display whatever is required but I have made a rule that don’t go overboard with the clothes and skin show because then nobody would pay attention to the beauty of the dance and expressions. So even with ‘Dilbar’, I remember telling the costume designer that let’s try and make the blouse decent. Sexy yes, there is nothing wrong in being beautiful, hot and sensuous but it has to look good visually and aesthetically,” she further adds.
Deeply inspired by international artists like Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce, and Michael Jackson, and Helen from the Hindi film world, Nora says excitedly, with her eyes wide open, “I look up to these iconic music videos of singers in the West because they have heavy dance sequences, great choreography, creative, and visually, very inspiring. So when I am set to do a song, I need to make sure it is performance-driven. Visually, what I can offer is very cool dance steps, energetic moves, good presentation, and performance. I meet people who agree with my vision. I am hypnotised when I watch Helen’s songs as I feel I am watching a musical or a big Broadway show. She takes us to the world of expression and feelings while you are listening to the lyrics and music. Then, there was Sridevi and Madhuri (Dixit). People outside India speak of their dance numbers as an art form, and I connected with that when I watched movies in Canada.”
“I want to do roles that are accompanied with those numbers and then it becomes a package, and you get to entertain audience in different ways. I am not just a dancer. Batla House was a pleasant surprise, and I got so much appreciation and respect for that. People today understand that there is a difference but it is not my job to tell people how they should think. It is up to the audience. If you have that negative perception, you will never enjoy the art,” says Nora.
After Batla House, she is looking forward to Street Dancer 3D and probably, there would be a few more announcements. “Directors are now narrating some awesome stuff to me. Nikkhil Advani (Batla House director) wrote a character for me, we did acting and dialogue workshops. Street Dancer is also a strong performance-oriented role. I play Varun’s love interest. It is a dream role. I was also very happy to share screen space with celebrated actor Vicky Kaushal in the performance-oriented video, ‘Pachtaoge’,” says Nora.
Nora may be feeling happy but she is not content yet. It appears her planning for the future is a continuous process. “It is a very long and difficult journey, and people will respect you for your achievements on your own but tomorrow they might wonder that how come she has not done a lead yet, it has been four years. But when the time comes, I will be ready as an artist, and you won’t find fault in me because I would have taken the time to prepare myself,” concludes Nora.
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