She was called “Hyper Star” in Hyderabad and having worked with every major actor in the Telugu film industry, from Jr NTR to Ram Charan, there was no reason for her to return to the Mumbai film industry where she first began. But Rakul Preet Singh loves a challenge, something she learnt from her Army officer father. After her first film upon her return, De De Pyaar De (2019), with Tabu and Ajay Devgn, which did very well, she has been consistently portraying a new kind of woman, with a job, and a voice. Whether it is playing a doctor in Doctor G (2022) or a self-motivated sex educator in Chhatriwali on Zee5 recently, Singh has steadily built a profile as an actor on screen and a star on the red carpet. As she works on a forthcoming thriller with Bhumi Pednekar, or observes co-star Kamal Haasan’s five-hour prosthetic process for Indian 2, she is learning every day. “Kamal Sir comes in on the sets at 5.30 in the morning to be ready by 11AM, and it takes another two hours to take the makeup off. He doesn’t have to do it, but he does because it is his passion,” she says. It is the same commitment that saw Singh driving around Mumbai in her little Ritz for endless auditions, before she cracked it with her first Hindi film, Yaariyan (2014). “I would leave my home in Kandivli at 9 in the morning, go to a gym in Bandra which had the best trainer, and then join the lines at Aram Nagar for auditions,” she recalls. What’s the worst rejection line she heard? A casting agent telling her that she was good, but had too generic a face. “I told her it’s the only one I have,” she says, never one to seek validation from anyone. With 25 films in Telugu, which she now speaks well, and a burgeoning career in Hindi films, Singh, a maths graduate from Jesus and Mary College in Delhi, is set to go higher.
The Favourite Foreigner
He’s been a CIA agent more than once, in Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran (2018) and in Rocket Boys (2022). He’s been an American with a thing for Shahana Goswami’s banker on Netflix’s Bombay Begums (2021). And now he gets to play a Frenchman wooing Dimple Kapadia, no less, in Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo on Disney+Hotstar. Mark Bennington is a long way away from his acting days in New York or his photography days in Los Angeles, but he is clearly having the time of his life. “In Los Angeles, I was one of 150 guys who looked exactly like me. I am not in the same boat here,” says Bennington. He’s just wrapped Devil in Telugu, where he is playing a villain opposite Nandamuri Kalyan Ram, Jr NTR’s half-brother, and is currently part of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s sprawling web series for Netflix, Heeramandi, about courtesans in pre-Partition Lahore. He is, as his photo book on Bollywood says, “living the dream”. Married to Taapsi Ramchandani, an anthropologist trained at Syracuse University with whom he has two children, Bennington is Bollywood’s favourite foreigner. So much so that he has now even written his own web series which he plans to direct. Bennington trained at the New Actors Workshop in New York, a two-year acting conservatory founded by Mike Nichols, George Morrison and Paul Sills. He then did theatre and television work in Los Angeles till he decided, at the age of 33, that he was going to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and be a photographer, create his own images and craft his own narrative. That led him to come to India in 2010. “It was a feeling of being terrified as well as excited, of leaving and coming home,” he says. It is where he met his future wife, though it took him time to marry her. When they finally returned to India in 2018, after her doctorate and his hustle as a studio photographer in madly competitive New York, it was acting that Bennington chose. What he did as a job initially has turned into a passion. The next Tom Alter, we presume?
Scene and Heard
“I do the web series so I can make movies like this,” said Sudhir Mishra at the premiere of Afwaah, a searing movie on the state of politics and media in the country. From love jihad as a political tool to the use of technology to turn fake news viral, the movie, which was written by Shiva Shankar Bajpai, Apurva Dhar Badgaiyann and Nisarg Mehta was hard-hitting. It was hopeful too, and none more so when a group of Muslims sees their houses burnt down in a riot, and the eldest says: “It was old anyway and needed to be rebuilt.” It is in this resilience that India lives.
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