By Gary Singh
Like most other Asians in the UK, I grew up watching what are now considered to be classic Bollywood movies - Sholay, Naseeb and other Amitabh Bachchan titles. Then as I grew older, I found myself slowly losing interest in the romantic-comedy-type feature films of the '90s and '00s, that always appeared more geared towards women - that was until very recently.
It came to my attention that 30 year-old Preeti Desai, born and bred Brit from the market town of Guisborough, was fast becoming India's most loved British import. I caught up with her during one of her most recent city tours.
So have you picked up the Mumbai accent yet?
Mumbai is very cosmopolitan and has all sorts of accents and people from around the world. My accent tends to change depending on who I'm speaking to. I tend to pick up accents of the people I spend a lot of time with, I have a North Yorkshire accent naturally which comes out in full power when I’m speaking to a fellow Northerner!
How good is your Hindi now?
I think I’ve definitely come a long way from when I first moved to Mumbai. I now feel confident doing Hindi films. I’ve got a great teacher, Veena Metha, which is a big bonus. It's hard to find someone who is good, who you’re comfortable with and most importantly, who enjoys teaching. I still want to continue my diction classes as I feel it keeps me practicing.
Did you ever visit India as a child?
Prior to moving out here, I’d only ever been twice; once when I was 4 and the other time I think I was 17.
Is it really as modern and progressive as people often talk about?
Yes it is in some ways and not in others. There is a mix of people who are modern and open-minded and then you still have societies which are quite traditional. Progression is happening but maybe it would happen faster if there wasn't so much corruption.
Our parents would often dream of moving back to India – did you ever think that you would end here?
No! Having been born and brought up in England, my parents actually had a bet on how long I would last in India. Ha! I showed them!
Good for you! Do you see it as a temporary move or would you be quite happy to spend the rest of your days in Mumbai?
It all depends on work and where that takes me. If I'm working and doing what I love, I'm happy, be that in India or in England.
What’s your favourite thing about the city?
The people – I’ve made some lifelong friends here. And of course, Abhay is here.
And least favourite?
Mumbai is a great city and I love the vibrancy and busy lifestyle, but I have to say certain things took a while to get used to, such as the pollution, pot-holes in the roads, incredible traffic and the rubbish on the streets.
So, what do you miss most about the UK then?
My dog Charlie, he's my Yorkshire terrier back home in England.
Bollywood has regularly recruited new actors and actresses from the fashion industry. Are looks that important in this industry?
Looks are important regardless of the industry – it could be Hollywood or Bollywood. But at the end of the day what’s most important is talent. If you don’t have the essentials to become a good actor then your scope if limited as looks can only take you so far. It’s important to be able to carry yourself in a huge industry like showbiz.
Was it a natural progression from being crowned Miss Great Britain to becoming an Indian supermodel, to now starring as the lead in a Bollywood movie?Miss GB took me to India and being independent and needing to pay rent took me to modelling! Acting was the thing I came to do in the first place. After being crowned Miss GB, I received two film offers and so one thing led to another.
Wow. And what is your favourite Bollywood movie?
My favourite is Maine Pyar Kiya. It’s a classic film with a great soundtrack.
Who were your favourite Bollywood heroes and villains when you were growing up?
Rather than specific characters, I had a fair few favourite actors! They were; Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan, Amir khan , Hrithik Roshan, Juhi Chawla, Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai.
Now tell me about your new movie One by Two.
The story is about two people living in the same city, who unknowingly do things which have an impact on the other’s destiny. Although they are strangers, they are unaware of the influence they have on each other.
Was it fun to make?
Working on the film was an amazing experience. When you do something you love, it often doesn’t feel like work at all. That’s why I loved being on set and enjoyed every moment of it.
Your co-lead is Abhay Deol – are you two not romantically involved?
Yes we have been in a relationship for almost 4 years now.
What was it like working with your other half?
It was great because it creates a certain level of comfort, although we kept it very professional.
So you’re not competitive with one another then?
We are in a light-hearted way; it keeps us both on our toes and pushes us to keep improving.
How would you like to see you career develop over say, the next 5 - 10 years?
I just want to keep working on films like One By Two. I want to entertain people and transport them into another world for the few hours that they’re watching the film. I hope I get to work with some amazing scripts and directors in the future.
And how important is your UK fan base now that you have millions of admirers in India?
I want to make films that everyone can watch and enjoy. I used to stay connected to India through Bollywood films. So, with UK supporters I'll know I'm doing the same for them too – providing them with a connection to India.
Good answer! Do you have any words of advice to those who wish to end up in Bollywood themselves?
Hahaha... Ask me maybe when I know myself! I just went with the flow and took the opportunities that came my way; I'm a big believer of fate and destiny - if it's meant to be it will happen.
One by Two releases in cinemas on 31st January 2014. You can also follow Preeti on Twitter @misspreetidesai.