"their idea and vision of our people gets narrow"
According to Manipuri actress Lin Laishram, Bollywood’s “narrow vision” for artistes from the North East has resulted in fewer opportunities for actors like her.
She has called for Bollywood to stop stereotyping people from the region.
Lin appeared in the likes of Mary Kom and Rangoon but she rose to fame in the 2020 Netflix film Axone.
While the praise made Lin happy, she said it came after a decade-long struggle in the industry.
She said: “My ethnicity has been my biggest struggle in the industry, a setback in getting me work.
“I have so many friends – who are established now – with whom I studied acting, did theatre.
“They are doing way more work than I am doing right now. If I have two auditions in a month, they have 15-20. It’s easier for them to get roles.
“We have IAS officers, sports personalities, writers.
“But when you come to Bollywood, their idea and vision of our people gets narrow and reflects in casting. It’s annoying.”
Lin Laishram was fascinated by Bollywood but felt a “disconnect” due to the lack of screen representation of Northeastern actors.
The only actor they connected with was Danny Denzongpa.
Lin continued: “Bollywood for us, was larger-than-life.
“It was impossible to even dream of working there, that was the level of disconnect we felt. We didn’t speak Hindi so fluently, didn’t look the same.
“The only person we kind of connected with was Danny.
“He looked like us but he was so good with his Hindi, he sounded like any other actor of his time.
“We felt he’s more like them than us because he didn’t have an accent.”
Lin moved to Mumbai in 2001 for her education before turning to modelling.
She moved to New York before returning to Mumbai where she joined theatre groups.
“Even then, people had problems casting me in roles.
“I knew from the beginning that this won’t be easy. Somebody needed to take that chance and put confidence in me that I could pull it off.
“Vishal Bhardwaj took that chance and cast me for Rangoon. The space he gave me was that of respect. I really needed that.”
Lin Laishram said that Rangoon was a major stepping stone for her but good roles remained sparse. She would usually get casting calls to play a “spa girl or a waiter”.
“I always put my foot down, not because there’s anything wrong in doing those roles but it should mean something.
“I can’t be there to fill up space in the frame. We should not be stereotyped.”
But refusing work has not been easy as each refusal means a loss of time and money.
“You start questioning your own choices, even if you’re doing the right thing. It confuses you, makes you self-doubt.
“A girl from Delhi would have a Kareena Kapoor or an Anushka Sharma to think about.
“That ‘this is how probably they made it, so I’ll do the same’.
“But I didn’t see any North Eastern actor (on-screen) who would look like us.
“I had no other footsteps to follow. To learn that if you do smaller roles, it’ll lead to something big, I didn’t have that luxury.”
Her journey has been more difficult due to the weight of expectations of the people back home.
“When you’re from a small town, a lot of people expect a lot from you.
“They don’t realise how much struggle a person has to go through.
“Turning down work has not been easy.”
But Lin does not want to work out of “pity” and hopes that Bollywood gives all actors a fair chance at success without their identities deciding their privilege.
She added: “I just want a fair chance. I should get what I deserve.
“If you’re holding 100 auditions, I want to be fitted in for those. All I’m asking is for that fair chance.”