Sacred Games was an acting school with the best of the best for me: Elnaaz Norouzi
The model-turned-actress reveals how Shah Rukh Khan was the one who lured her to Bollywood and more in a chat with City Times
If you’ve watched the Emmy-nominated Netflix Hindi show Sacred Games, you’d surely remember the gorgeous Jamila/Zoya Mirza who played the goon Ganesh Gaitonde’s (Nawazuddin Siddique) mistress in the crime thriller. Ever since she appeared in the web series, the Iran-born, Germany-raised Elnaaz Norouzi, has become a recognised face in Bollywood. But getting into the industry wasn’t a cakewalk for the actress. Considering her background, she had to overcome several obstacles like language and culture before getting accepted.
“It has been a hell of a journey,” said Elnaaz, who started her career with modelling, and has worked with Salman and Shah Rukh Khan in commercials.
“I’ve travelled a lot as a model and becoming an actor wasn’t the easiest task for me, especially in India, where there is so much one needs to do such as mastering the language, the dance and the craft of acting. It has been a tough and long (journey), but worth it,” added the actress, who has walked the ramp for top brands like Dior and Hugo Boss, among others.
Tackling any new language can be difficult, and in Elnaaz’s case, even though she is a polyglot, who besides her mother tongue Farsi, is fluent in languages such as German, English, French, Urdu and Punjabi, she had to work hard on learning Hindi.
“Blending into Bollywood wasn’t easy at all for me. I have to admit that I haven’t yet completely blended into the industry, but I’m working on myself and trying hard to make sure I’m worthy of it. I’ve worked hard learning Hindi. I would say the biggest challenge has been convincing people that I can not only speak Hindi fluently, but I can also act too.”
Modeling her way up
Elnaaz started her showbiz career with modeling. She has worked on top international brands and has endorsed products in India too. She started her movie career in Punjabi films and also appeared in music videos before getting her big break in Sacred Games in which she shares screen space with one of Bollywood’s most talented actors, Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
“Nawaz sir (Nawazuddin) is a brilliant actor. I learned so very much from him during the time of our shoot. Sacred Games wasn’t just work for me; it was an acting school with the best of the best,” said the actress.
The hit Netflix series, of course, features another popular Bollywood star in the lead – Saif Ali Khan – and Elnaaz revealed that she’s been a fan of the actor for a long time.
“Considering that I had his posters on my walls as a teenager and now I am working with him, the experience was surreal! He is such a humble person. It was an honour to share the screen with him.”
Not many mainstream actresses would have been comfortable taking up a bold role as Elnaaz did in Sacred Games. So did she read Vikram Chandra’s critically acclaimed book to know about her part before signing up for the series?
“I had not read it (Vikram Chandra’s book) before signing the series. There was a strong reason why I signed Sacred Games – something other actresses would not have probably seen. It provided me with an international platform to show what I can do as an actor. It allowed me to work with outstanding directors. It also gave me the chance to prove to people that I am not just a pretty face, I am an actor who can pull off two characters. I hope that’s reason enough.”
Sacred Games (season 2) was nominated in the Best Drama category at the International Emmy Awards 2019 and Elnaaz said that she could not contain her excitement after hearing the news.
“I was in shock for the first five minutes after reading the news. My first reaction after that was to call Anurag (Kashyap, co-director) sir and Vikram (Motwane, co-director) sir. It took me a day to realise how huge it was and that we got nominated. It has always been a dream for me to be able to work on good projects that get nominated by the big renowned awards in America and here we are! It was a great feeling.”
Streaming services have created a huge opportunity for filmmakers to produce unique content. It has also opened up a huge window for actors.
“There is so much content being made on all different platforms. It’s great to see stories which can’t be told through films or mainstream cinema find an outlet in the form of web series days. Moreover, this also creates opportunities for actors to get more work,” Elnaaz said.
The Khan magic
Many budding actors have looked up to superstars for inspiration and in Elnaaz’s case, it was King Khan, aka Shah Rukh Khan, who drew her to India to start a career in Bollywood.
“I used to watch Shah Rukh sir’s films, and the love for him and his films made me decide to relocate to India and to pursue acting in Bollywood. At that time, I didn’t know how hard it (acting) actually would be, but I’m glad I did it.”
Besides SRK, Elnaaz also has a “secret crush” on Vicky Kaushal.
“Vicky is a brilliant actor. I think he is super good looking too. I would love to work with him in the future.”
Working in the movie industry is a high-pressure job, but for Elnaaz, having worked for more than 10 years as a model for international brands like Dior, Lacoste and Le Coq Sportive to name a few, the demands and pressures of showbiz is a given.
“As a model one constantly goes for castings and I remember how hard it was to land the big jobs. There are 50-100 models at each casting and you want to be the one landing a show or a shoot. It’s a lot of pressure and it can get to you. I always used to tell myself that it’s fine if I don’t get a job and that I don’t need to beat myself up over not landing it. I’d go for castings very relaxed and being myself. I guess people feel that and like that about you. Also, I’m quick and this works for clients who love to wrap up shoots in no time.”
Future looks bright
Movies made by Iranian filmmakers have been critically acclaimed worldwide and have even won Oscars. Being fluent in the language, would Elnaaz consider doing Iranian movies in the future?
“Any day,” she said. “I would surely love to be part of an Iranian film. We have such fantastic filmmakers and being part of the films I grew up watching, would be a dream,” Elnaaz added
Nonetheless, Elnaaz is busy working on some new projects in India, one of which is the Tamil thriller Jana Gana Mana. The movie stars award-winning Tamil star Jayam Ravi and Taapsee Pannu. One of the reasons she signed this movie is because she’s a huge fan of this genre.
“I love thrillers. I’m super happy to be part of Jana Gana Mana. Unfortunately, at this time, I can’t say much about my role. However, it’s been fun working with these two amazing actors (Jayam and Taapsee).”
And what about future plans – more modelling, more movies or television?
“Hopefully, I will be doing a lot of films and delivering great work. I’m working on two films right now, but I am also working on (improving) myself constantly. I aspire to become a better actor with every project and I hope that people will love what I do on screen,” she concluded.
Rapid fire round with Elnaaz Norouzi
One character trait you despise in yourself?
I can’t say despise, but lately, I’ve become very distracted and I’ve been hating that about myself.
Something you hate about others?
I don’t like people who are self-centred and dishonesty is a no-go for me.
Your beauty secret?
A Bollywood actor you dream of working opposite?
Any awkward moments when facing the camera for the first time?
I did it for an ad. I had no idea what was happening. I wasn’t sure where to look or what to do. I messed up a couple of times till I figured out the drill. It’s pretty funny when I look back at those times.