In an exclusive first interview since the world-wide lockdown, the versatile artiste talks about dealing with quarantine, the world post COVID-19 pandemic, her roller coaster journey from Canada to Bollywood, and her future projects.
A Bollywood, they say, is a tough nut to crack, especially if you are an outsider. However, the good part is, if you are talented and devoted to your craft, you can’t go unnoticed either. The multifaceted Nora Fatehi is definitely one name that comes to mind when you talk about an outsider making their mark in tinsel-town.
Overcoming all the hurdles, sans any godfathers, this gorgeous actress — who is born and raised in Canada — is paving her way to success in the entertainment industry with sheer determination, diligent and dedication to her craft. In an exclusive first interview since the world-wide lockdown, the versatile artiste talks about dealing with quarantine, the world post COVID-19 pandemic, her roller coaster journey from Canada to Bollywood, and her future projects. What’s more, the talented gal says, “This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more I am going to do.”
It has been over 70 days since India is under the necessitated lockdown, how are you dealing with this quarantine period? Are you missing work?
To be honest, the initial days of quarantine were confusing. I was just trying to gather my thoughts and educate myself to understand what was happening globally. There was a lot of misinformation going around, and the unknown is always scary, so at that point, there was a lot of fear and confusion. So, what I did first was to understand what was happening worldwide and what to expect in the coming days, weeks and months. Post that I had to accustom myself to staying alone in the house for so long. And it took me back to my Canada days, which were like just hustling in the house, doing my own cooking, cleaning and just taking care of myself. So, it was nice.
Then I had to convert my work into work from home, which was not hard to do as I am not one dimensional. I can do work on social media, I can do work via brand posts, I can do work through engaging with my fans and followers. It is just the idea of not being able to meet your loved ones, and knowing that if anything was going to happen, you will not be able to reunite with them — that was very difficult to accept. I have friends whose family members were extremely ill, they were dying…and I needed to be there for them, even if it was just through phone and a lot of energy was spent there. I can say that mentally, I was rethinking my priorities and what I feel is important in my life.
And did I miss work? No, because I have other things to worry about in life that are more important, and I think in the fast-paced life we are living in, we really did not notice that. It took something like this to bring back our focus on what really matters. While I don’t miss work as I am working from home, I do worry about the status of our world in the coming future.
Ever since you have set foot in the industry, be it your dancing or acting – one has always seen you push the envelope every time, what’s the process you go through to prepare yourself each time?
The process I go through mentally is that I need to prove myself to everybody. I need to prove myself to the audience, the industry, and to me. So, I need to push the envelope and I need to do things that I may find tough and difficult. I never allowed myself to be in a comfortable space. If I don’t come to people with a ‘wow’ factor then I would be easily replaced and easily pushed out. It is hard when you don’t have a backing, don’t come from an industry family, don’t have any godfathers… So, when you have none of these stuff behind you, then you need to rely on your skills and your talent. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more I am going to do, and I am always going to work towards enhancing my skills and try to come with a surprise factor. The sky is the limit for me. I have a lot of facets to me that I haven’t yet explored. My overall goal is to become an international artist.
Do you think the world would be a different place post the COVID-19 pandemic?
Yes. Not just post COVID 19, I would say COVID-19 is just the tip of the iceberg, the world will be a different place post a lot of things that are happening around us. As you can see, they are unfolding right in front of our eyes and they are not just specific to the United States of America… they are all interconnected, and a lot of countries are following suit. This tells you that there is a sort of awakening energy that’s happening globally, where the subconscious mind of a lot of people is almost waking up from a certain state of being and this is sure to cause an indefinite change in the world.
I feel there will be a huge change politically, economically and socially. I can’t say much, but I do feel this is the time to educate yourself about your country’s politics, your economical infrastructure, and even your nation’s history. There are a lot of things in history that repeat themselves, so I always say to people to educate themselves about the history of their country and others too. It is important to understand things like imperialism, globalisation, colonisation… and then you’ll understand how our lives are connected to what’s happening globally. I feel this is the time to educate ourselves and be ready for what’s to come. Be ready for the change to come.
We have heard that you are also doing your bit to help people during this COVID-19 crisis; can you please tell us more about it?
Yes, my capability is not so large but whatever I can, I am doing it. We started an initiative where we are donating PPE kits to hospitals across India that don’t have enough supplies for their medical workers. I am also working on something on the side and hopefully, if it takes off, it will be a very good initiative. We are just trying to do our best, to be active in our society as much as possible.for what’s to come. Be ready for the change to come.
How badly do you think this global crisis is going to impact the film industry in general? COVID-19 pandemic?
I was not thinking how this global crisis was going to change the film industry, I was just thinking about how the world is going to change in general. If I were to talk about it… there are a lot of restrictions that are going to happen, how things are going to be shot, how sets are going to be maintained, how many people are going to come on sets etc. Projects are halted, films have been shelved, films are being sold off to OTT platforms… So it is a change that is happening already. It could be temporary and things could go back to normal. But the way we create content will have to change for some time for sure.
Can you tell us more about your character in the film Bhuj: The Pride Of India?
I am really excited about my role in the film because I play an Indian spy, who is placed in Pakistan for a mission. It’s an action-packed role, and I play a strong confident woman, who is very charismatic. My character is extremely crucial to the story and the plot. So, I am excited about my role. I think it’s an interesting character and it will have a very good positive impact on my career.
Speaking about your career, in less than six years you have carved an impressive niche for yourself in the industry through your music videos, dances and acting chops…
How would you define this journey from Canada to tinsel-town?
I would define my whole journey from Canada to Bollywood to Bombay… as a hustle. It has just been a complete hustle, a roller coaster ride. I have done everything. From films to small roles to supporting roles to music videos, to South (Indian) films, reality shows… I have done everything. I feel it’s amazing, cause as an artist I got to experience so much and I carry that experience with me. It makes me who I am today, and it has given me that knowledge about all those nuances that are necessary for an artist to succeed in an industry like Bollywood.
At the same time, I do appreciate the fact that my social media journey has also helped me a lot. The kind of things I have been doing on social media from day one and until now — you know building my YouTube channel, making my own international music, being an independent producer and singer, and venturing into different markets outside of India… it’s been literally a roller coaster and I am just so proud of this whole journey. It’s still ongoing and it’s still the beginning of it. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I am so lucky to be able to have these kinds of experiences, to have such a diverse journey that I am having right now.
However, for an outsider with no godfathers and no connections in the industry, the journey definitely mustn’t have been an easy one. So, what was your biggest hurdle when you started your career and how did you tackle it?
I would say the biggest hurdle would have been— to be taken seriously. The minute they hear that you are from outside, from another country — that’s a bit of a hurdle. That and the language. I came to India not knowing a word of Hindi, so I had to learn from scratch and I had to learn quickly because I didn’t want to waste time. So, I would say being an outsider and not knowing the language was a big hurdle in the beginning but I tackled that real quick.
First, I adapted to my environment and understood that I need to integrate with the nuances here. I think integration is important and people who don’t accept it are the ones who always stick out like a sore thumb. They don’t go far because you look like you are resisting. I didn’t want to be someone who is resisting. So, I immediately got myself a Hindi teacher and spent a lot of time and effort to learn the language as quickly as possible and I think that played an important part in my growth at the beginning of my career.
At what point in your career, did you realize that you were rising to fame and how was that feeling?
I always thought I was famous (laughs). I always had this idea in my head that — I am my own movie and I am the star of my movie. Having said that, I think the turning point in my career came when the song ‘Naah’ with Harrdy Sandhu released (2017) and broke all records. It was the first song in India to do five million in one day on YouTube. We got a lot of attention, especially me. The way I was portrayed in the music video, the way I performed, my look… everything was appreciated and talked about. I just knew at that time that I am close to hitting that opportunity and I am going to become that girl.
After, ‘Naah’ I shot for ‘Dilbar’ and the moment it released, after 24 hours, I knew that’s it — I made it. I knew I had arrived and this was the moment where I go right or left. It was the time, where I use the opportunity to become something, to become a sensation, become an inspiration and take it and multiply it to many many more other moments like this, or I just go left and take this 15 minute of fame and disappear. I didn’t allow the latter to happen. I seized that moment and made it into other moments. I went ahead and sang and produced the Arabic version of ‘Dilbar’ really quickly, released it in Morocco and opened a new market for myself. I made sure that the wave I was riding was not just the wave, but the entire ocean.
I immediately signed Street Dancer and Batla House, which had me acting and performing. I did a huge song in Batla House — ‘O Saki Saki’, which went on to become another explosion, exactly a year after Dilbar’s release. So, a lot of things happened post ‘Dilbar’. But again, only because of my drive and my hunger to not allow people to think that I am here for just a moment and I am leaving. I wanted people to believe in me and believe that I am here to stay.
Apart from being an actress, singer, you are also an incredible dancer; how did you fall in love with dancing? Who is your inspiration and what were your early influences?
I fell in love with music, movement and dance ever since I could remember. It could have been when I was three, or could have been when I was still in my mother’s womb…to be honest, there isn’t a correct answer to that, all I can say is that I had been in love with it always. But I was never encouraged to pursue it. It wasn’t like I grew up thinking — ‘Oh, I want to be a dancer.’ I always thought that I want to be a performer, an artist; so, whether that included dancing, or acting, or doing comedy, or singing or whatever — I wanted to do it all.
However, I did have a lot of inspiration… Shakira, JLO and Beyonce inspired me and influenced me immensely. Then I started watching Bollywood icons like Helen and Madhuri Dixit and I would watch all of their stuff. I’d be so influenced in a more cultural, exotic way and then I would be influenced by my cultural dancing. As I grew older, I would search for famous dancers worldwide and learn from them. I wasn’t allowed to learn technically, as I was pushed towards academics more… So I found different ways to explore my artistic abilities. Whether it was through extracurricular activities at the school or the dance club, learning from classmates, or being in my room and practising in front of the mirror through YouTube videos… that is how I built myself as a professional performer. I always thought that I am just preparing myself for the day, where I will be in front of people in a cinema hall or on the big screen or at an award show stage — where I will be performing in front of thousands of people. I always knew that day would come someday.
So, what apart from dancing and acting keeps you busy?
Apart from dancing and acting, music keeps me busy. Ever since I produced and sang my first song — the Arabic ‘Dilbar’, which became a huge hit in Morocco, in the Middle East and other parts of North Africa, I have become hungrier to make own music and release it on my YouTube channel. After ‘Dilbar’, I also produced – ‘Pepeta’. I collaborated with an international artist called Rayvanny and we made this diverse track, which appealed to East Africa, North Africa, some parts of Europe and The Emirates. It did well in India as well, which I didn’t expect. The success of ‘Pepeta’ has got me excited to make more independent music. I also do smaller scale stuff like my skits and my comedy stuff on social media. I love doing that stuff and it makes my fans happy.
Lastly, what advice would you like to give to aspiring Canadian artists who want to be a part of the Bollywood industry?
Well, people who are aspiring to join Bollywood or Hollywood or any other industry in the world —I would say just be mentally prepared for the struggle and the roller coaster ride. You got to come with thick skin, really thick skin and just be very motivated because if you are not motivated then anything anyone says can rattle you up or divert your attention. Just know what your goal is, keep your eye on the prize and come ready.
Come ready for anything that might hit you and just don’t lose your focus. Be prepared to learn, keep your mind open to new things, adapt yourself and be ready for competition. Because there will always be someone prettier than you, someone more talented than you, someone more connected than you, someone more financially stronger than you, there will always be someone more than you… So be ready for that. Lastly, don’t give up on your dream. If you know deep inside in your gut that this is what you need to be and this is what you are made for, then don’t ever give up.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF : NORA FATEHI | COVER PHOTO: Mohamed Saad