Local woman takes the lead

Janu Arasu plays a young American beauty pageant contestant in

A young woman who recently graduated from college is plucked
from obscurity to star in a major motion picture.
She’ll be working alongside some of the industry’s most veteran
actors, but the only problem is, she doesn’t speak the language.
Sounds like a plot straight out of Hollywood, right? Well, almost.
Try Bollywood.
A young woman who recently graduated from college is plucked from obscurity to star in a major motion picture.

She’ll be working alongside some of the industry’s most veteran actors, but the only problem is, she doesn’t speak the language. Sounds like a plot straight out of Hollywood, right? Well, almost. Try Bollywood.

Janu Arasu was chosen for just such a task, starring in a new Indian romantic comedy called “Miss California,” which is still in production with about 50 percent of filming complete.

As a child, the Gilroy native sang in a local Indian community choir with Raj Prasad, a friend of her parents’ who later returned to his homeland and became a pop sensation. Years later, when Prasad had parlayed his stardom into the creation of a production company, he called the family hoping to persuade Arasu into making a movie. The young woman would have nothing of the idea, though, preferring to stay in the United States and finish her education.

But when the knock of opportunity came again last summer, Arasu couldn’t say no. Thus she found herself bound for India, iPod and suitcase in hand.

The booming Indian film industry known as Bollywood produces more than 1,000 movies per year, more than its stateside counterpart, Hollywood, and independent U.S. releases combined, with average budgets hovering at about $1.3 million per picture. That’s less than one-tenth the average budget American films have, according to the Waltham, Ma.-based IndUS Business Journal, a trade paper for South Asian and Indian investors in the United States.

The romantic comedy “Miss California” stars Arasu as a bumbling American beauty pageant contestant, Jahnui, who inadvertently ruins her cousin’s wedding.

When the young visitor finds out that her trip to India was arranged as part of a marriage deal, she attempts to distract the groom-to-be by setting him up with another of her cousins, only to fall head over heels herself in a musical comedy of errors.

The cast and crew for Arasu’s film set up shop in the remote village of Thirthalli, in the state of Karnataka, where it was hard for the American-born woman not to stick out.

“(The village) was basically only three streets, so most people knew who I was after the first day,” said Arasu, who wore her own street clothes for the role of Jahnui. “Everyone knew everyone else and it just seemed like a big family, even the shooting crew.”

If she became bored in the evenings, Arasu spent time with the other cast and crew members, who often got together in groups to sing along with popular songs while sitting in their cars.

Her days and nights, in fact, were filled with a foreign tongue.

“I don’t speak the language,” said Arasu, who filmed her dialogue sequences in the language kannada. “When I’d sit down and get my makeup done, my prompter would come over, and he’d teach me my lines word for word so I would be able to hear them said properly. I’d practice repeating them, and during the shooting he was prompting me, so it was kind of like two people talking whenever I had to say things.”

Still, Arasu was a one-take wonder, skilled at following the vocal commands of her tutor. That, and her voice will be dubbed for the final cut of the film anyway, a standard practice in Indian cinema.

The fledgling star also picked up a few pointers from her costars, one of which has played in more than 600 films.

Among other things, she learned how to cry for show, a combination of pinching one’s forehead and dabbing some glycerin in the eyes.

“A lot of the people (who play) my family, like aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents, are well-known actors,” said Arasu. “I went to a temple with my ‘grandparents’ once and they were just mobbed. My ‘grandmother’ was the big heartthrob in the ’70s.”

When Arasu longed for a piece of home, the iPod was always near, but she won’t have to stray far for the completion of filming. Miss California’s remaining scenes will be shot in the San Francisco Bay area.

For more information on Arasu and

“Miss California,” visit http://chitraloka.com/misscalifornia.

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