Although international faces in Indian films are now commonplace, it is the recent performance of Polish talent, especially in acting and cinematography, that industry observers say is an interesting bond.
During World War II, about 1,000 orphaned children from exterminated Poland traveled to India in search of refuge. When their ship embarked at Rozi Port in Jamnagar, Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja of Nawanagar, a princely state in Kathiawar Peninsula off Gujarat, made arrangements to build a camp for them. Later in 1943, the only permanent and largest Polish settlement, was built in Valivado, near Kolhapur, for 5,000 refugees. This gesture resulted in the hot documentary, Little Poland in India, made in 2013. The 52-minute film is the first co-produced by the Indian and Polish governments.
While this story celebrates compassion and cultural and historical bond between India and Poland, there is another one in Bollywood.
Growing up in Poznan, western Poland, Matylda Bajer’s love for Indian cinema grew early with Shah Rukh Khan-Mahima Chaudhary-starrer Pardes (1997). Then a teenager, Bajer, now 28, watched the movie on her television. “Then came the Punjabi MC-Mundian song, which was performed bokeh in Polish clubs. Bollywood was not known to everyone there. These were the only two links we had to the Indian entertainment industry,” she says when we will meet her at her Malad home.
When she was 18, Bajer moved to Ireland. Continuing pursuing business studies and working as an assistant in an account office, she was accepted by a photographer. “I was scared and hated being clicked. But he convinced me and said he would keep the photos just as memorable. When I saw my pictures, I was stunned.” It set the ball rolling for a new life. Bajer enrolled for a theater workshop in Dublin and worked with independent filmmakers on small roles until she turned 20.
In 2012, during a backpacking trip to Hong Kong “to experience Asian culture” she was introduced to India. “People have talked about the challenges of living here, how culturally it is and how it could change your life.” Since June 2013, Bajer has been exploring India for the next five months. “It was hard, I stayed at the most basic housing and ate street food. But my stay made me realize how crazy I fell in love with the country. I packed my bags and left for Europe, with a dream of returning and pursuing a career here. “
After rescuing modeling in Ireland, Bajer arrived in Mumbai in 2015. She lived at an inn in Colaba and visited tourist locations in South Mumbai, drawing the attention of film agents and coordinators. “I did a random reality show. I had to start somewhere. And then I started auditions in Aram Nagar. Soon I started filming for TVs. My first big announcement was for Incredible India.” Bajer played the role of newsreader in Neil Nitin Mukesh starrer Firrkie (2018), air host on Fan of 2016 (SRK) as well as starring in a Binda series called Life Lafde Aur Bandiyan. Her biggest break was as a friend of Sunny Leone in the 2018 network series Karenjit Kaur, and the Malayalam movie Lucifer (2019).
Bajer says her tribe is growing in Bollywood.
Claudia Ciesla, born in Wodzislaw Slaski, is 32 years old. In the last 13 years he appeared as a contestant on Bigg Boss and starred in Khiladi’s hit song Balma 786 (2012). A well-known face on the European modeling circuit, she came to India in 2006 to shoot with an international crew for Karma. “I had to be in Mumbai to advertise the movie, and that’s how I noticed the paparazzi. When I returned to Germany, I was offered entry into Bigg Boss season 3, to be hosted by Amitabh Bachchan.” Initially, she turned down the offer. “I didn’t even know what a reality show was. But the organizers convinced my manager that this was going to be a good platform, so I gave up.”
Ciesla survived in the house for 10 weeks. “When I went out, people wanted selfies with me. I became popular in just two months, I couldn’t believe it. That’s when I realized I could try big projects in Bollywood. If things didn’t turn out, I had a successful career waiting for me back home. ”So, the 32-year-old actor stayed and hit gold. She signed another reality show, Zor Ka Jhatka with SRK, and shot the project in Argentina. Then came Comedy Circus, and then the nasty number, Balma. It’s been 13 years, but Ciesla as Bajer has no plans to go back.
If we speak English is not common in the country, all the interviewees we spoke to spoke the language fluently. So, the real obstacles in smooth working life in India are the weather and hair color. “Initially, they [production companies] would like me to color my hair so I can look cheaper. But I’m an outsider and will never look local, no matter what contact lenses I wear. One day I put my foot down and I decided, that I will accept only those roles that allowed me to play a foreign role, “says Bajer.
A March 2019 report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry entitled, A Billion Screens of Opportunity, stated that in 2018, the country’s media and entertainment industry was enjoying a stellar run. “With the film section increasing by 12.2 per cent to reach annual revenue of INR 174.5 billion. Of that amount, domestic film revenues crossed INR 100 billion with Net Box Office Collections for Indian films at INR 32.5 billion – the most high ever, “it said.
With massive budgets and a growing global audience, it is no wonder that Bollywood and Indian television are attracting talent from around the world. What is wonderful, though, is the concentration of Polish talent. Joanna Robaczewska anchored Comedy Circus and was part of Karenjit Kaur season 2. Erika Kaar played a pivotal role with Ajay Devgn in Shiva. Natalia Janoszek, also born in Bielsko-Biala, has been seen in lead roles in Dreamz: The Movie (2013), and Flame: An Untold Love Story (2014). Well-known Polish actors Cezary Pazura and Tomasz Karolak sacked roles in Bangladesh (2015).
Julia Piekielko, a Polish national, set up a talent agency in Mumbai five years ago, to increase collaboration between Bollywood and international talent, especially her home country. In the last five years, she says, she has placed eight directors of photography (DOP) in various productions across India. “It’s not necessary for them [production companies] to apply for a DOP of a certain nationality; it’s really their choice in the end,” she says. Representing the production company Film Poland Productions and the Talent Recruitment Agencies, she placed DOP Michal Luka for Ittefaq (2017); animator Adam Wyrwas in Tokri (2017), and Marcin Laskawiec and Karol Stadnik – both DOPs on production of Tiger Zinda Hai (2017). The projects have helped their careers in India take off.
Until recently Artur Å »urawski was the only Polish DOP – Mardaani by Pradeep Sarkar (2014) and Yash Raj Films’ Sultan (2016) – in Bollywood. But, as the career charts of Laskawiec and Stadnik show, Bollywood’s interest in Poland is not limited to acting.
Born in the small central Polish town of Slupca, Stadnik is currently on assignment in Delhi. Speaking to us on the phone, he says, “As a kid I was a lead filmmaker. I grew up doing amateur films and VFX. During my five-year film course at the Polish National Film School, I already started making short films. After graduating in 2011 , I have done numerous commercials and presentations in Germany and Estonia. “
Moving from Poland – which has its own thriving and acclaimed film industry – was an easy choice for Stadnik, who says the competition was tough at home. “I haven’t worked on a big budget movie in Poland yet. The competition between the DOPs is quite intense. But Indian films have given me the opportunity to work as the main DOP.”
Director Ali Abbas Zafar has hired Polish DOPs for his big-ticket films like Bharat (2019), Tiger Zinda Hai and Sultan. “Ali Abbas specifically requires his films to have Polish DOPs. I think after Zurawski did a great job in Sultan, the filmmaker has a fascination for Polish camera operators,” says Laskawiec, who studied philosophy and literature for two years each than enrolling in the Krzysztof Kieslowski Film School in Katowice to learn cinematography.
Piekielko agrees. “My job is to bring in the best talent for a movie. While I deal with cinematographers from around the globe, there are some Indian filmmakers who prefer Polish DOPs. It’s their choice. My job is to guide them through the work visa process. so the production goes on smoothly. I coordinate the project from start to finish to make sure both the director and the DOP are happy and everything goes according to the production plan. “
Interestingly, Film Poland Productions, for which Piekielko works, offers another service back home – their exotic locations where Indian films can be shot. Marta Bejma, head of production, tells us, “We believe that Poland is one of the most attractive and competitive places in Europe for filming. We have historic cities, castles, fabulous palaces, mountains, sea, and also modern. urban life. We can add a European feel to a movie with a much lower budget than other countries. “
And there were buyers already.
Salman Khan’s Kick (2014) was shot in Warsaw. The Other Bhatt and Shahid Kapoor starrer Shaandaar (2015) were shot at the Zamoyski Palace in the Lublin and Ksiaz Castle areas in Lower Silesia. Then came Fitoor (2016) and Super 30 (2019). And now, Amitabh Bachchan starrer Chehra is shot in the area. Film Poland Productions wants to make Poland the new Switzerland for Bollywood films.
Number of DOPs Julia Piekielko has found placement for Bollywood in four years