In 2015, British-born Kiran Rai stood outside Waterloo Station in London with a bucket asking passers-by for donation. He stood outside the station for four weeks begging people to support him and had with him newspaper clippings to show his genuine cause. Rai was seeking to raise money for a film project in Sri Lanka that had been stalled. Born to Punjabi parents in England, Rai raised an incredible 15,000 pounds and is now waiting for the movie Parachute to be released. For the model, TV presenter and aspiring actor, nothing is unachievable if you have your sights set on it. In Melbourne as a brand ambassador for Social Box and DMS, a Melbourne-based social media company, Rai talks at length about the gruelling aspects about becoming an actor, the challenges of being an Asian in the show business, and more.
Firstly welcome to Melbourne, what brings you here?
I am working on a project called Social Box, which is a like a new social media app. I have just become the brand ambassador and we are on an international tour at the moment. I have been sponsored by Social Box and DMS and we are travelling to places such as the Philippines, South Africa and Dubai. Social Box offers a single platform to have multiple accounts with social media and manage all your social media and monitor the strategies used in various platforms. So this is my first visit to Melbourne. I have been here for five days and I am really enjoying it here.
A model, TV presenter or actor. How would you best describe yourself professionally?
I have been doing acting for about ten years. I started off performing in local and small theatres. Then I started writing my own stuff. I wrote a show that went to West End in Central London called Good Things Happen to Good People and it went to Broadway in New York, it was there for six months in the Richmond Shepard Theatre. I also started radio presenting, fashion and modelling. As an artist, you do things to get where you need to be. Not everybody can go from A to Z, sometimes you have to jump from A to H. That’s what I did. I went from a position where I started to do the ground work first, absorbing and testing lots of stuff and worked my way up.
You have hosted numerous shows. What were some of the highlights?
I have hosted about 22 shows from Wimbledon to Formula One to the Grand Prix to the Challenge Cup final Rugby 2018, Indian fashion shows, London Fashion Week, the Brit Awards etc. I have been asked to host the MBA, that is coming up in January as part of the London Games. Honestly, it’s been so many great memories. I am also going to India as well. I won my first major award in India, the IFA award for Foreign Artist of The Year last year as an international model. Even though I have done a lot of modelling, I felt the award was more to do with producing, etc.
Has Bollywood not attracted you?
The thing about Bollywood is, I was very lucky at one point, I was close to getting a lead role in a Bollywood film, but it also came with the disadvantage of not knowing Hindi very well. My whole family speaks English, I am very British, I understand a bit of Hindi. So when I went to the producer and he said, ‘Kiran read the script’, I couldn’t understand it. Was it a downfall? Yes. When I was younger my mom encouraged me to go to a Hindi school but when you are seven or eight, you just don’t think about it. Maybe I regret it now, maybe I should have taken those instructions but when you are young you don’t have the mentality or maturity to think maybe I will need this in the future. But I am going back to Mumbai in January so I am going to try again. Having won the IFA Award, I feel I have opened so many doors while I was there and now I can go back and say ‘here is my Hindi now’. All the casting directors and producers I met said they liked my enthusiasm but they also said I needed to learn Hindi because once they dub me, they will have to dub me in all the films. It’s a valuable lesson for me. So, yes, I will be one month in India coming January and another month in Los Angeles. I am trying both Bollywood and Hollywood. I am going to crack it this time.
How did you enter showbiz?
I was fooling around on social media and used to work with the media a lot. The more I started presenting, the more I started making friends who are journalists, producers. Then I used to write and send the material to them. I was just having a bit of fun and didn’t think anything of it. I knew what I wanted, but the thing is, when you are young you don’t know how to make it. I do realise that if you follow the system, you might win or might not but there are so many other ways.
Why did you raise money for Sri Lankan film Parachute?
I was in Sri Lanka and working with some very cool producers and the director of the film was a very good friend of mine. But when I was giving an interview with one of the newspapers there, they twisted my words which gave the impression that I was the producer. That got me in trouble with the Sri Lankan producer. And because it was on paper, whatever they wrote triggered something. I don’t what happened but it hit a nerve of the producer and he pulled out quick. He let the film go. So I went to London and raised 15 grand in a month by standing outside Waterloo station. We had put in so much and the whole world was waiting for Parachute to come out. I gave the money to the producers, now we are waiting for it to come to the cinema. Everything is ready to go now. It is a romantic film but, sadly, I am not in the film.
Is London not an option?
A lot of people have told me to get in touch with filmmakers such as Mira Nair, Gurinder Chadha and other Asian producers. But I want to have my own pathway. Perhaps I am stubborn. But, really, how many people approach Gurinder Chadha every day? Thousands. Now what is so special about me compared to other people. There is a saying ‘think big and you get big’. Fine. I believe in that 100 per cent but sometimes you have to be realistic, you can’t lie to yourself and say ‘Oh I am going to Gurinder and she is going to give me a role’. No. So I have to be a good actor, presenter, model because I consider myself not as a product but as a business. I have to work my own pathway so that I alone am responsible for the outcome.
I want to be an actor, 100 percent. I do the hosting because it is fun and I get a lot of exposure and I have a good following on social media, maybe I just need to use it more to my advantage which I am starting to now. If we put our mind into something anything is possible, we all have bad days but if you want to do something very quickly you can do it, you just have to quickly aim for it.
As an Asian in the entertainment industry, what are the challenges?
I don’t want to lie to you but in Britain where I am from, Indian actors never get main roles in the films. Dev Patel was very lucky with Slumdog Millionaire, but I have approached about 100 top agencies and every single one rejected me. I have more experience than a 50-year old has but they never let me in. I can’t say it’s because I am specifically Indian or Asian but I would like to say it is part of that. If I was up against somebody in an audition who had no experience and I had ten times more they would still select the English white Caucasian boy. It’s a bit judgemental, that’s why I am outsourcing other stuff now. I think I have done enough in England.
You mentioned Ed Sheeren, did you work with him?
My manager Dave knew his manager. So when Ed Sheeren had his world premiere I had the opportunity to walk him out to the premiere together. It wasn’t like we worked together on an album because I am not a producer, but it was really nice to meet him. It was more of a PR stunt for me to be there, that’s how you do it, when someone lower is with someone higher people want to know who this Indian boy is. Ed Sheeren was really nice, very polite to me.
How important is social media to you?
I don’t believe in social media but I do it because I have to follow what they are saying because now I am represented by these people here, I have to respect their time as well. Everybody can become famous now but it’s now about being famous, it’s about learning your craft. There’s no point being famous for the sake of it, be good at what you do and do it well, let your work talk for you. When your work talks then people want to know you for you, social medial all comes with it.
Anything else you want to add to the interview?
My advice to young people, regardless of whether they need it because everyone has their own pathway, is be yourself. Don’t lie because when you become that big star people will say where was that? Just be as much real as you can because it will always add up later. Someone will always find out what you are saying, is it legit? Aim high. If you want something, have a voice and just go and do it.
(As told to the Indian Weekly)