Expats on tourist visas work in movies, music videos and ads to make a quick buck. They get work from agents constantly on the lookout for black and white models
Delhi has become an important hub for foreign models and actors, much sought after by the Indian advertising and film market. Romancing a white woman is aspirational, a potent symbol of success, but black models are also in demand to bring an exotic touch to music videos.
That is why talent scouts look for Britons, Russians but also tourists from Nigeria, Congo, Angola and Uganda, to name a few. Argentinians and Brazilians are also in demand, Afghans and Nepalese as well. They are happy to make some pocket money or try out a new experience.
Not just for Bollywood, many of these foreign actors and models are being hired for regional films and videos. The Punjabi music video industry — you guessed it — is where they get a lot of work. White models dancing in the backdrop, with a burly Punjabi singer in the lead, are the very definition of swag.
A recently released video, Bhang da Kamaal by singer and rapper Jaaneman starts with two young woman, party attired, lying on the bed next to each other, asleep, while the main protagonist lights up a cigarette. His dreadlocks neatly tied behind his head, surrounded by white women, he’s throwing dollars, drinking and smoking up. The number plays in the backdrop basically reiterating: Eyes are red. Under the influence of bhang, he drives a black car.
And that is where you can see Nigerian Jason Ola playing a businessman wearing a tuxedo with a red bow, along with compatriot Baptiste, the other hunk. Underworld and glamour, intoxication and wealth, perhaps, is a sexy combination for those who love these videos, leading drab lives themselves.
Ola has a proper model coordination agency but others are free floating agents who mingle with expats in parties, bars, hang out with them, go for short trips in and around Delhi, and at the first opportunity offer them work as a model or an actor. The shooting slots are usually for a day, three days or a week. And they can make Rs 20,000 per day depending on what they are required to do on screen.
An Italian tourist who identifies himself as Matheo Joseph is from Florence, 21 years of age, a part-time bar tender, still in college. He came to India in the latter half of February after a breakup, in need of a change of scene. He made some friends in the capital, and they went to Hauz Khas village on a binge party. He met Svetlana, they got along well. They met again the next day, just two of them. She offered him a role in a Punjabi music video, a seven-day shoot near Shimla. He declined.
But then, after travelling for a month, he came back to Delhi, and wanted to buy and ship home an Enfield Bullet and a Kashmiri carpet. He needed about a couple of lakhs. He contacted Svetlana and she immediately put him across to a casting agency. For the first two weeks of April he was shooting in Rajasthan and MP and made good money.
“I was escaping work and familiar surroundings. Work followed me to India,” he says tentatively in broken English. Language was a barrier or he could have secured a bigger role. Now proud owner of a red Enfield bike, he says, “My mother has already started calling me a Bollywood star,” he laughs.
The case of Susana, a Londoner, is not very different. A half Spanish, half British girl, tall and slender, athletic, she looks much younger than her age: 35 years. “I’m a tomboy,” she says. She came to India after Christmas at the fag end of the last year, hated Delhi in the initial days — alone and lost in a town “where madness reigns.”
The mood changed when she met a travel agent from Kashmir, starting a friendship that blossomed into romance. She was to stay for a couple of months, but has been staying now for nearly four months. She acts in ads and helps out at her boyfriend’s travel agency. “I met this Russian dancer at a party at Green Park, she offered participation in a dance number. I thought it’s a rude joke,” she narrates. The Russian wasn’t joking.
Since then Susana has been part of three music videos, and plays host at farmhouse parties for which she is paid Rs 25,000 a night in cash. “I have an advantage. I know the English language. I’m not just another dumb white girl,” she declares.
Jason Ola, who has been part of the many Hindi movies and Punjabi music videos himself, co-founded an online platform called Art and Events. There’s a WhatsApp group as well, which has about 300 members, both male and female, at any given point in time, who hail from various parts of the world. They are in India to make some quick bucks. Mostly from Russia or Russian-speaking countries like Belarus, are predominantly women.
Valentino, a 25-year-old model from St Petersburg with cascading hair is all appreciation for Ola. “I can see through your heart. You are a transparent person,” she tells him.
Ola enjoys the goodwill of many and is particular about paying them in time. He spends most of the day multi-tasking, coordinating assignments, shooting, making sure the payments reach models in time. He represents the interests of both the production house and the artistes.
“These girls are particularly vulnerable, easy targets for exploitation. They need a local who’s reliable and fair who’d act as an armour before they venture into the Indian market,” he says.