Text by Pierre De Villiers
Illustration Toby Triumph
Wrapped in a gorgeous sari and with dark locks cascading down to her shoulders, Elli Avram looks at first glance like your typical Bollywood actress. The stunning 22-year-old greets N magazine in English with an Indian accent and tells me how much she feels at home in the sunny city of Mumbai. There is nothing to betray the fact that Avram's roots lie thousands of miles away in Stockholm.
Avram has a Swedish mother, a Greek father - so what's with the accent? "I learnt to speak English after moving to India by copying the way people pronounce the words," she explains. "When I say a few words in English in a Bollywood film I have a Hindi accent. I fit right in."
Avram has taken no time at all to blend into her new surroundings. Just six months after arriving in Mumbai from Stockholm, she has already broken new ground for a Swedish actor by landing the romantic lead in Bollywood film Mickey Virus, a Delhi-set thriller due to be released in May, which involves a Punjabi computer geek planning the con of a lifetime. The accomplishment is all the more extraordinary given the fact that Avram did not speak Hindi when she first touched down in India.
"Before I auditioned for Mickey Virus I asked director Saurabh Verma to send me the script so I could memorise the words, because I didn't know Hindi yet," she recalls with a shudder. "I was sent four pages of dialogue and there was no-one who could tell me how to pronounce certain words. At the audition they liked my acting but the accent wasn't right. I went back for a second audition and the director said I should rehearse the scene in Swedish to get the feeling right. Then we did it in English and by the end in Hindi." Somehow, she eventually beat off 200 other hopefuls.
Avram is the daughter of Swedish actress Maria Granlund, who appeared in Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, and Greek musician Jannis Avramidis. She adored singing and dancing as a child, but only fell in love with Bollywood after watching 2002 film Devdas, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai. "I was 14 and was sleeping when my parents suddenly shouted and said - put Channel 1 on," she recalls. "I had a TV in my room and watched Devdas, which is almost four hours long. I didn't move the entire time. I thought, wow, I want to dance and sing like that. I have to do Bollywood movies."
After receiving training as an actress from her mother and aunt, who runs a theatre in Skillinge, the obvious next move was to India. "I fell in love with the colours and the energy of Bollywood," says Avram, who isn't going to do a gloomy Scandinavian film any time soon. "The two are so different," she says. "Swedish films can be bleak but there is such a nice energy and happiness with Bollywood movies."
And she hopes she can inspire more actors to live the Bollywood dream. "They can say: Wow, she has done it, so maybe I can do it too. I think it would be wonderful to inspire other Swedes." For the moment, though, we'll just have to make do with the one.
Bollywood: A Survival Guide
1 Get a comfortable seat
Brevity is not exactly Bollywood's strength.
The longest Bollywood movie is 2003 film LOC: Kargil - about Indian soldiers fighting in the 1999 Kashmir conflict - which clocks in at a buttock-numbing four hours and 25 minutes.
2 Like a musical number
If you thought Mamma Mia! had too much warbling, spare a thought for those sitting through 1932 Bollywood offering Indra Sabha, which holds the world record for the most musical numbers in one movie - a rather astonishing 71.
3 Don't expect to find a hidden gem
Between 3 and 4 billion people watch Bollywood films, which equates to about half the world's population. The Indian film industry overtook Hollywood in 2004 in terms of viewership numbers and has never looked back.
4 Pucker up
Bollywood actors may have a reputation for never kissing but, when they do, a crowbar can't separate them. The longest kiss in Bollywood history was performed by Devika Rani with her husband Himanshu Rai in 1933 movie Karma, the pair not coming up for air for four minutes.