Sonil Dedhia in Mumbai
After working as a nurse in Sweden, Gihana Khan will make her Bollywood debut in this Friday's release, Mumbai Mirror, opposite Sachiin Joshi.
Even though she is half Afghan and half Swedish, the 21-year-old girl always dreamt of making it big in the Indian film industry.
Gihana tells Sonil Dedhia what inspired her to travel halfway around the word to pursue her Bollywood dream.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born and brought up in Sweden. My father is from Afghanistan and my mother is from Sweden. I was working as a nurse in Sweden.
I always dreamt of working in Bollywood films and luckily my dream came true when I made my maiden trip to India and bagged the role in Mumbai Mirror.You are probably the first girl of Afghan origin to act in a Hindi film.
I am very proud of it. I always loved the culture and the people of India.
Back home in Sweden, I grew up watching Hindi films. My father has lived in India for a while and would tell me about his experiences with this country so I don't feel like an outsider here.
I am proud of my Afghan looks that won me this film. My parents encouraged me to come to India to pursue my acting career and they don't mind me being an actress.
'Afghanistan is not only about terrorism'
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
Women in Afghanistan aren't allowed to pursue a career in acting. Did you not fear a backlash from the people of Afghanistan?
I have been thinking about it and to my surprise, I have got a lot of positive response from the people of Afghanistan.
People have written to me on the social media. This has given me a lot of confidence and will surely encourage me to do more work in Bollywood.
There are some people who don't like me being an actor but I am sure with time their thinking will change.
Also, Afghanistan is not only about terrorism. It's a beautiful country and I am sure if the world gives it a chance, they won't be disappointed.
'I was very nervous on the first day'
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
How did you get the offer of Mumbai Mirror?
I met director Ankush Bhatt when I visited India. He gave me the script and I loved it.
I play a bar dancer in the film and did some research about my character. I then auditioned for the role. Ankush really loved my performance and that's how I came on board.Dance bars no longer exist in Mumbai. How did you prepare for the role?
I am a nurse and I saw a lot of patients who were treated for drug overdose or were victims of drug abuse.
I also met some girls who were earlier bar dancers and they helped me know how their profession worked.
Since this is your first film ever, were you nervous?
I was very nervous on the first day and didn't have time to prepare. I went with the flow and tried learning from my co-actors Sachiin Joshi, Prakash Raj and others.
Also, the director would calm me down and direct me what I should do.
'I'm confident of my acting skills'
Was this the first film you were offered?
I was offered an item song earlier but I turned it down because I don't want to be known as an item girl.
I know I have the potential to act and I want to be an actress as that has been my dream. When I was offered Mumbai Mirror, I realised that it would allow me to learn a lot about acting.
Would you be open to item numbers in the future?
Yes, I am open to good roles even if it is an item number. I want to do good work and I am sure I am going to stay here for long.You are playing the role of a bar dancer. Was it difficult dancing to Indian songs?
Yes, definitely. More than dancing, the real challenge was to act with some of the biggest stars of Bollywood.
Prakash Raj and Aditya Pancholi have been working in this industry for so many years. Sachiin too is a fine actor. I didn't have much time to prepare for my role, which made me a little nervous, but I was confident of my acting skills.
'I grew up watching Sridevi's films'
Your role was earlier offered to Mallika Sherawat but she turned it down.
Mallika is a big celebrity. I have seen her work and she is a great actress.
When I came to know that I was replacing her, I felt really blessed because the makers of Mumbai Mirror believed that I could fit into her shoes.
Before you came to India, did you see any Hindi films?
Hindi films aren't very popular in Sweden, but my father had a collection of films on DVD. I grew up watching Sridevi's films.
I also loved watching Amitabh Bachchan's films. I must have seen almost all his films! I am a huge fan of his.
What made you decide to leave your profession and come to India?
I always dreamt of acting in Hindi films. Like all parents, my parents too wanted me to have a good academic background that I could fall back on if I couldn't pursue acting.
I worked as a nurse for some time and when I got the opportunity I grabbed it with both hands.Are you comfortable speaking in Hindi? Have you dubbed for the film?
I haven't dubbed for the film but my Hindi is good and this has shocked a lot of people.
I understand and speak Hindi. I would still like to learn the language, change the accent and try to become more comfortable with it.
'I love the people of India'
What is the best thing that you like about India and what are the places that you have seen in India?
I love the people of India. They are always warm and friendly. Though I haven't seen a lot of India, I find it colourful and vibrant.
I was a little nervous when I first started shooting for the film, but the whole unit became like my family. I don't see that anywhere else in the world.
Who has been your biggest inspiration in Bollywood?
Sridevi always inspired me. She is simply amazing. Recently, I saw her film English Vinglish and she was so brilliant.
Amitabh Bachchan also inspired me. His life story made me realise that one should pursue one's dreams and nothing is impossible.
Any actors that you would like to work with?
I would love to work with Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan and Sridevi.Who according to you is the hottest Indian actor?
I think the hottest actor is Amitabh Bachchan (winks).