Entertainment & Arts

Amy Jackson: From Liverpool to Bollywood

Image caption Amy Jackson stars alongside actor Vikram in the Tamil film Thaandavam

Liverpool model Amy Jackson had never acted professionally nor visited India when she was spotted online and cast in an Indian film.

Now she has moved to Mumbai, appeared on the cover of Indian Vogue and is making a name for herself on the big screen.

Amy Jackson was not quite your average Liverpool schoolgirl when she received the offer that would take her 4,500 miles and change her life.

She had already been crowned Teen Miss World at the age of 16 - but playing Indian characters in Indian films, requiring her to speak Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, is still not what this all-English beauty queen expected to happen next.

The opportunity arose when director AL Vijay saw her photo and asked Jackson to play an English governor's daughter in his Tamil film Madrasapattinam, set against the backdrop of Indian independence in 1947.

"He said I had a really good look for his movie, for this particular role," says Jackson during a trip home between film shoots, her Liverpool accent now delivered with an Indian rhythm.

"It went on to be one of the biggest hits of 2010 in India so that obviously opened other doors. I never had any expectations of it doing so, but that's what happened."

Amy is Caucasian, but her long dark hair has allowed her to pass for a local in her subsequent films.

The daughter of BBC Radio Merseyside sport presenter Alan Jackson, she won her first lead role as an Indian character in Ekk Deewana Tha - a Bollywood love story that went down less well with audiences.

Image caption Jackson has faced a backlash for playing Indian characters

Her dialogue in that film was dubbed by a Hindi actress. But Jackson has worked to become fluent enough in three languages to deliver the lines in her next films herself.

"That's going to be a challenge because I really have to get the diction right," she says. "They're very difficult.

"There are no similarities to English whatsoever and the formation of the sentences is very different."

Diving head first into Indian life, Amy has moved to Mumbai, the home of Bollywood.

The Indian industry is split along regional and linguistic lines. As well as making her Bollywood debut, Jackson has also made or is making pictures in Kollywood (Tamil language, based in Chennai in the south-east) and Tollywood (Telugu language, based in the central city of Hyderabad).

Thaandavam, a Tamil action film in which she plays an Indian woman living in London, comes out in India on Friday and she is currently filming lead roles in two more movies.

She is keen to stress she is "a newcomer" and that it is "a privilege" to act with the likes of Thaandavam star Vikram, an established Tamil favourite.

"I'm getting good exposure because of the movies I'm picking and the people I'm working with," Jackson says.

She is also a fixture on red carpets and on the covers of magazines like Indian Vogue Beauty, Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan, while she has a modelling deal with Armani in the country.

A romance with her Ekk Deewana Tha co-star Prateik Babbar has also seen her in the gossip columns, meaning she is better known to many as a model and celebrity girlfriend than an actress.

Image caption Large parts of Thaandavam were filmed in London

Her rising fame has led to enthusiastic stories in the British press about being "mobbed in the street", though Jackson, slightly embarassed, says they are wide of the mark.

"You get people coming up to you and asking about movies, especially in Chennai, which is nice," she adds.

Yet Jackson has not been universally accepted.

She is not the first foreign actress to appear in Indian films and the idea of white stars playing Indian roles has led to complaints that native actresses are being sidelined and that Indian audiences are being sold an unrealistic, westernised notion of beauty.

Director Abhishek Kapoor summed up the sentiment when he wrote earlier this year of a "Caucasian invasion".

"I have no prob[lem] with a Caucasian girl playing a Caucasian," he wrote, according to the Times of India.

"But selling her as a Punjabi or an Indian is deluding the audience and also making the Indian naive woman feel inadequate."

Jackson acknowledges there has been a backlash but is keen to shrug off criticism. "I think whenever you're in the public eye you're never going to be loved by everybody," she says.

"It's very hard not to listen to people I suppose, but at the same time there are so many good points compared to the bad points.

"The negativity will always be there. I think that's for any actress or actor. But I think you've got to take it with a pinch of salt."

After establishing herself in India, has Amy had offers to appear in films back in the UK or in Hollywood? She replies that she is "looking at different options" and it would be "nice to be able to maybe in the future".

But she insists she is "really concentrating on India" and her two current films - a non-committal answer worthy of the most media-savvy star.

As well as the languages, it seems that she has also mastered the art of diplomacy.

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