Lin Laishram, who has worked in prominent Bollywood films such as Om Shanti Om, Mary Kom, Axone, and Rangoon, has won hearts with her onscreen charm and charisma. The Manipuri beauty has represented North East on a global podium, however, her homeland isn't as welcoming as it should be when it comes to accepting her as any other Indian, be it in reel or real life.
Lin says that the North Easterners barely had anything to relate to when it came to Bollywood, with the rare ones badly done by wearing bizarre tribal costumes and talking gibberish.
She says, “The only person that belonged to the North East was Danny Denzongpa but we couldn't relate to him either because he spoke fluent Hindi which most of us didn’t. By the time Bollywood discovered us, we had already entered our films on the global platform with Aribam Syam Sharma’s masterpiece Imagi Ningthem winning Golden Montgolfiere at the Festival des 3 continents, Nantes in 1982.”
Laishram, who has been working in the industry for almost a decade, rose to fame with the 2014 film Mary Kom starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas in the titular role.
While the casting did invite backlash during its release, Lin states, “I admire Priyanka for her hard work, she really put in a lot of hours in order to look like Mary Kom but I always felt that casting is an important step in film. I believe in authenticity and inclusivity, so a girl from Manipur or the North East could have been surely cast to represent us.”
Despite having an elevated status given her work in showbiz, Laishram maintains that she’s experienced racism within the industry on several occasions.
Elaborating on the same she says, “One is approached to play stereotypical roles like a spa girl, prostitute or a waiter. Not that playing these characters demeans an actor but it's how we are seen and typecast. Its little knowledge about our culture that bothers us. When it comes to playing an achiever from the Northeast a non-North Eastern person is chosen as seen in Mary Kom. On the other hand, why not cast people from Northeast also as normal Indians in all walks of life which we are.”
She further adds that Bollywood needs to be more inclusive and normalise having North Easterners, not just as an ornamental or geographical representation, but merely Indians.
Lin says, “The latest example of great inclusivity is The Family Man 2. In the show, people are cast from Tamil Nadu and speak Tamil, representing their local culture and ethnicity, and it has been so widely accepted and appreciated. So, if south Indian culture can be accepted then why not North Eastern?”
The COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to scores of North Easterners facing racism. Speaking of her most horrifying encounter to date, Laishram says, “When I dropped off my parents at the airport and was heading back home, I was followed by two men who kept calling me ‘coronavirus’, to the point of physical aggression. It was really scary.
“I felt helpless and angry because there were a lot of people from the North East suffering in different ways. They were denied groceries, some girls were spat on the road, students were thrown out of their PGs and hostels. It was sickening to believe that we will be treated in such a manner in our own country,” she adds.
Amid the constant ups and downs, Lin says that she chose to become a Bollywood actor without giving much thought and will continue to keep striving.
“I didn’t know I would have a different set of struggles because of my looks. Forget having a godfather in the industry I never had seen or heard of a Manipuri actor working in Bollywood before me. It's been a decade in the industry. The mantra is to keep striving and hoping that things will change for the better,” she signs off.
Axone is produced by Yoodlee Films and is directed by Nicholas Kharkongor.