5 Iconic 'Foreigners' in Hindi Films

We live in an Era where Most Back-Up dancers in mainstream hindi films are 'white chicks', and then of course every other week we are bombarded with 'item songs' featuring Firangi Items.

That's exactly the type of foreigners in Indian films that I an NOT going to talk about. Indian films have had a long and illustrious history of people from across the borders working here, some made this their home, others stayed for a short while. The list of such fine, talented people is long. And I am going to talk about a motley group of just 5 of them who are Iconic by their legacy, their stature or just by being who they were/are.

5. Biddu


I know I would be getting a lot of brick-bats (in general) for including Biddu in this list, because

a) He isn't exactly a Foreigner
b) He hasn't exactly produced a zillion Filmy music albums in India

c) He looks kind of creepy
LEKIN! Calling Biddu an Indian would be the same as calling Freddie Mercury an Indian. They were born here and did grow up for sometime within our beautiful country, but like Freddie, Biddu found work/fame/money outside India. In his case, in Britain.

He first became internationally known when he produced this


It's a song which you have heard in a LOT of movies (including Kung-Fu Panda), and in hundreds of commercials. It is kind of a one-hit wonder, but then, it's instant recognizability (sic) makes its renown legit.
Biddu has in fact being instrumental indirectly in India's filmistani world, he did produce a track in Feroz Khan's Qurbani which is still very popular, not in part because of his 'discovery', another foreigner singing sensation

The Pretty Nazia, who sadly died very young
Biddu's influence was rampant throughout the 80s in India (more about that in a different article), but in the 90's he came back and took charge of the Indi-Pop scene in his hand, producing famous tracks like 'Johnny Joker'


A song that is still better than any of the flurry of remixes that were inflicted upon us. I would consider his main contribution to be the promotion of singers like Alisha Chenai (who has successfully overcome her 'awkward' voice face and sings excellently in films these days) and Shaan and Sonu Nigam (who are staple singers in ANY Hindi Film).

These days Biddu has become a successful writer, and I do not see any hope of him coming back out of the blue to his birthplace from Jolly Good London, but even his Techno-friendly Disco beats would be better than what the Copy Paste Machines of our Film Industry produce nowadays.

4. Bob Christo


Even before he became the Gora-version of Shetty, Bob Christo was already awesome (as we have already mentioned in our Facebook Page), but then for those of you are yet to join us there, here's an interesting factoid about 'Handsome' Bob

He worked as the set designer for the Epic film Apocalypse Now, but before that he had auditioned and  got a small role in the film. Bob later rejected that role because he was making more money as a set designer, it went to a minor actor called 'Harrison Ford'.

He was a civil Engineer, thus a direct inspiration for 'Bob The Builder'
Not much was known about his previous life before he came to India, until he published his autobiography sometime before his death. Having read his book, if all that he claims in it is true, he was indeed as bad-ass as he looked in films (In a bar fight, he claims to have laid to waste some ten men who attacked him), so I guess our filmy heroes can thank their stars that what they do on screen is pretty much play acting.

He started acting in hindi films almost by accident, he was in India while he was waiting for a work permit to get a job in Muscat, and also hoping to meet Parveen Babi, and films...just happened. You might remember him for getting punched by Amitabh Bachchan in Mard or being thrashed by Hanuman Ji (no less)

He WAS committing sacrilege
But he has appeared in way more movies than you can imagine. Mostly as a mysterious white man who would for some reason buy arms from India (because we aren't exactly the pioneers of AK 47) or as a hefty Henchman, mostly the penultimate level Boss, kind of like what Chuck Norris was in Enter The Dragon, but with a shinier pate (in his autobiography he says that he was taught martial arts by Bruce Lee's teacher, and that he saved his teacher's life from The Triads, no less).

Bob flourished at a time when Videshi Haath was still a big unseen enemy in Indian films, sadly when fewer films had place for villains, his time too faded. Although he did not pack-up and leave, he stayed put in India till the very end.

Bob Christo died in 2011, in an year that claimed many many famous lives.

3. Franz Osten


Who? You ask. Well, this man...

NOT an ancestor of Shikari Shambhu
The pic doesn't help ring a bell? Truth be told, he is a man who should need no introduction. He is one of the pioneers of Indian cinema. He was a director who worked with Bombay Talkies, perhaps India's first organized movie studio which employed craftsmen on retainers.

Essentially a photographer who wanted to become a filmmaker, he came to India in the 1920s, a time when the world was silent and black'n'white. He found both work and friendship with Himanshu Rai, who produced and acted in films which his German friend Herr Franz directed. The fact that those days films were silent and thus devoid of language must have made it easy for him. And like Bob, once he came to India he decided that it was a place rich with stories, and stayed until his death.

Consider the breadth of his work - One of his earlier films 'Prem Sanyas/The Light of Asia' dealt with the life of Gautam Buddha. And he made this film in 1925, employing a scale that is often repeated in other 'epic' films.

And way before anyone else could think of doing it, he made a film using a scene from Mahabharat ('A Throw of Dice') and directed films about sensitive issues like Untouchability (Achhoot Kanya) and the plight of Notch Girls (Jeevan Naiya). If directors are complemented by saying that they were ahead of their times, then Franz here was way way ahead of his times.

PS : I found mention in some places that he was a Nazi sympathizer, but have not got any detailed proof/article regarding the same. It IS documented though that he stayed in India till his death in 1956.


2. Helen


As I shield myself from brickbats, let me quickly justify that Helen can be considered as a Foreigner (although she has spent most of her life in India) because

a) Her initial work was mainly due to her Foreigner Looks
b) Her father was an Anglo-Indian and her mother Burmese


She came to India in the early 1940s post her father's untimely death, and had to start work very early, when she was 16 years old, as a dancer in the film Howrah Bridge. Initially type-cast as a dancer in movies who was not afraid to wear 'modern' clothes, she was later type-cast as a Vamp/bit-actor who would also have a Dance number as a Fair skinned girl who was not afraid to wear modern clothes.

In retrospect, Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo seems kind of racist considering her Burmese origins.

Although Helen is vastly different from the bevy of 'item' girls that you see today, for one - she never had to rely on 'vulgarity', instead, she used her dancing skills and expressions to infuse sensuality in her dance. And voiced frequently by Asha Bhosle, In fact, make a list of ten all time great hindi songs, and you would definitely have at least one Helen song in it, (and if you make a list of dance songs then they would be nine out of ten). The sheer volume of movies in which she has appeared also ensures that she has a role in ALL your favourite movies (even if you fall in the Yash/Aditya Chopra Fan category, she had a role in Mohabbatein.



1. Mary Ann Evans


She was India's first Action Hero. She was in fact India's first On-screen Super-heroine. She starred in a string of serialized films, who did all her stunts in her full of dhoom-dhadaaka movie. You might know her better with her Screen Name - Fearless Nadia a.k.a Hunterwali.


She was Hot AND she literally Kicked Ass. Damn!




When she came to India she changed her name to Nadia, and a certain Mr Wadia took her under his wing (he had his production company called Wadia Movietone which excelled in producing Action films in the 1930s), being an ex-circus artiste she was able to perform her own stunts. She starred in a string of Wadia Movietone action films, often with the variations of the name 'Hunterwali' or with films which had the names of Trains (much of the action took place on the railways)




Around the same time as Zorro was getting famous across the pacific and a few years before the whip wielding Wonder Woman made her appearance in comics, Indian films already had a Tight Cloth Wearing, Hot and often Masqued woman fighting for the cause of the common man, it was kind of ironical since she herself was a white woman and often fought the 'Raj' or the Symbols of british rule as a champion of the Indian people (the fact that the movies were being bankrolled by a patriotic Parsi gentleman had something to do with it)

Introducing this mustached gentleman to many kinds of pain
She continued starring in what would be known today as B-movies till the very end of a film career. All her movies focused on her, she always got top billing and the crowds loved her. Later in her life she married the son of Mr Wadia, and came to be Nadia Wadia.

Without a doubt she was the most iconic of all 'Foreigners' who came to work in Hindi films.



7 comments:

{ Kanishk } at: May 19, 2012 at 1:05 AM said...

tom alter?????

{ vakrachakshu } at: May 19, 2012 at 1:17 AM said...

Tom Alter was born in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand. Not exactly a foreigner

{ Kanishk } at: May 22, 2012 at 8:33 AM said...

going by that logic, y the heck is biddu in that list?

{ Kanishk } at: May 22, 2012 at 8:33 AM said...

going by that logic, y the heck is biddu in that list?

{ Prachi } at: May 29, 2012 at 4:37 AM said...

and Nadira?

{ Vaibhav Srivastav } at: May 29, 2012 at 10:50 AM said...

@Prachi, point noted. Nadira was a huge miss :) thanks for your feedback

{ Anurag Singh } at: May 30, 2012 at 9:37 AM said...

Bob Christo FTW

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