Unlike other foreign actresses in the Hindi film industry, Elena Kazan is not linguistically challenged
Elena Kazan came to India to work with a voluntary organisation in Kolkata and teach German at Max Mueller Bhavan. She spent three years working and travelling, during which she learnt to speak Hindi and watched Bengali classics recommended by friends. At that time, she had no idea she’d land up in showbiz. “I watched Ray’s classics and films like Megha Dhaka Tara. The place I rented in Kolkata was close to a DVD library owned by a person from Bangladesh. The folks at the library recommended a number of movies,” she says.
All her movie watching held her in good stead when she was signed up to play the female lead in Ashish R. Shukla’s Prague. “In this film, I am a Czech gypsy girl and a dancer. The film has a mix of English, Czech, Hindi and Bengali,” she says. The film, starring Chandan Roy Sanyal, has had its moments of glory in international film festivals before gearing up for the Indian release.
Elena’s family is far removed from the film industry. “My mother is a nurse and my dad teaches economics. They weren’t keen when I told them I will be acting in movies. While we were shooting in Prague, my mom came to the sets and observed the work that was going on. She began to see my point of view and understood why I wanted to act,” says Elena. The earliest connection to the film world, for Elena, was through her aunt who works as a cinematographer in Russia. “But we didn’t talk much about cinema. In my college days in the US, I watched world cinema from DVDs I picked up from the college library,” she says.
It’s been two years since Elena shot for Prague and in the mean time, landed herself the role of an Iranian living in Mumbai for John Day. “This woman has a dark past but is also a symbol of love and hope,” says Elena. Being an outsider, she feels, shouldn’t limit the kind of roles offered to her. “I can speak fluent Hindi and that will work to my advantage. I hope I’m offered a dance-based role. I’d love to perform Kathak. I don’t want to do a film merely for the sake of doing some work. I want to do a variety of roles and work with new directors who have fresh ideas. I am also considering taking Urdu lessons…,” she trails off.
Though she didn’t go to a film school, Elena hopes she gets the time to take up formal training in acting. “As of now I am learning on the sets. For John Day, I used to get my lines in advance and rehearse. In Prague we had an organic method of working where we could improvise on the spot,” she says.
Elena spent her childhood in Ukraine, moved with her family to Berlin and at 16, went to the US to pursue higher studies. “I didn’t think one day Mumbai would become my home,” she smiles.