Patcy N in Mumbai
Iranian actress Maryam Zakaria is in the news for bagging a small role in the Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor-starrer Agent Vinod. She plays a character named Farah who is an international dancer from Afghanistan.
This is her very first Bollywood film and she gets to perform a mujra with Kareena Kapoor and do a stunt scene with Saif Ali Khan in the film.
Chosen from about 1,000 girls who turned up for the audition, Maryam impressed the casting director with her dancing routine. But there is a major drawback if she wants to act seriously in Hindi films: Maryam knows no Hindi.
But she's learning.
The director of Agent Vinod, Sriram Raghvan, helped her with her dialogues and she dubbed her dialogues in Hindi.
'I was impressed by Saif'
Maryam said she had fun working with Saif and Kareena during her 25-day shoot in India. "They are both talented people. I was impressed by Saif; he did all his stunts on his own."
In her stunt scene with Saif, he is driving the car and she is sitting in the passenger seat when suddenly they are attacked.
Saif opens the car door and starts shooting and Maryam has to drive the car from the passenger seat. "It was a very difficult scene but Saif did it on his own. It was painful for him to bend from the car door and shoot."
Saif and Kareena both helped her adjust to the new environment. "Kareena is a great dancer and very beautiful. I felt nice sharing screen space with such a talented actor. She is so chilled out and down-to-earth that I felt comfortable around her."
'My whole body is bruised'
Now Maryam has bagged another item number in the Akshay Kumar and Sonakshi Sinha starrer Rowdy Rathore, a remake of the Telugu film Vikramarkudu directed by S S Rajamouli, starring Ravi Teja and Anushka Shetty.
Rowdy Rathore is directed by Prabhu Deva, who also directed Maryam's dance number in the film. It was a tough dance, she recalls.
"My whole body is bruised! In one of the steps, I had to roll on the floor, which was hard and had lots of dust, and some men fall on top of me and I have to roll under them and then get back on my knees. It was a difficult but good step and I did it. Nothing is easy, you have to work hard to get ahead in life," she says.
'Iranians love Hindi films'
Maryam has taken to the Indian industry and is doing two films down south right now. In the Telugu film Naa Ishtam she does an item number with Rana Daggubati. She plays a leading role as a cop in Arjuna along with Dr Rajasekhar.
Acting in Indian films was not part of her career plan initially. Maryam's parents moved from Iran to Sweden when she was a child. After completing her education Maryam joined the police school and passed the border patrol police exams and joined the border patrol force.
She says she grew up watching Hindi movies. "Iranians love Hindi movies," she says.
When she was three or four years old, she used to dance to Bollywood songs.
"I am a huge fan of Madhuri Dixit and I have learnt most of my dancing from her, she is my inspiration, I watched all her movies and songs," she reveals.
'I love India, especially Mumbai and Hyderabad'
In Sweden, she found a lady who taught Kuchipudi and trained under her for two years. She also learnt a little Kathak, but her interest was Bollywood dancing.
She quit the class and started a Bollywood dance class in Sweden and gave up her job with the border patrol.
"Soon my class became famous and I started getting lots of students. I also started performing Bollywood songs on stage." She choreographed and performed for Persian singer Saeed Shayesteh's video album, in which her students too participated.
She still wanted to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a Bollywood actress, so, in 2009, she let her students run her dance school and came to Mumbai.
She had no connections in Bollywood and she knew no one in Mumbai. She stayed in hotels, and the first year was very difficult. She kept shuttling between Sweden and Mumbai every month.
'My main aim is to play a lead role in a Bollywood film'
Through her agent she gradually started getting modelling assignments and advertisement spots-the Lays ad with Saif Ali Khan, Kalamandir saris, SetWet, Coke, Hide & Seek Milano.
She graduated to item numbers in Telugu films before getting her current assignments.
Sweden may still be her home, but, she says, "I love India, especially Mumbai and Hyderabad."
Now that she has got her first break in Bollywood, will she stop doing Telugu movies? "No, I will continue doing films in both languages but my main aim is to play a lead role in a Bollywood film," she says.