He left the outer reaches of Hollywood’s shadow to find critical acclaim as “The Silencer” in Bollywood’s box office smash, 3 Idiots. It is not every day an Indian American actor from Yucca Valley, California traverses halfway around the world to establish himself as an iconic Hindi film star alongside Aamir Khan, R. Madhavan, and Kareena Kapoor, but that is exactly what Omi Vaidya did, and he captured it all on camera in a biopic documentary, Big in Bollywood.
Directed by Matt McCroskey, Big in Bollywood, which nabbed an Audience Choice Award at the 9th Annual Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, follows Mr. Vaidya's apparent overnight success in one of the world’s largest film industries. The actor’s role in 3 Idiots as “The Silencer” – or, more colloquially, “the Fourth Idiot” – put him on the Bollywood map, not only because of his riotously comedic performance as an instigating brown-nosing Non-Resident Indian (NRI), but also because he held his own opposite Mr. Khan and Ms. Kapoor.
As Big in Bollywood travels around the United States right now and screens in various cities, the true trajectory of Mr. Vaidya’s success as an actor was clearly not as overnight as the film may indicate. Sure, no one walked into 3 Idiots expecting one of the most memorable performances to be delivered by someone not named Kapoor, Khan, or Bachchan.
Indeed, Mr. Vaidya pointed out, in a chat with Buzzine Bollywood, that he already had worked on a few projects in Hollywood. To him, it was not surprising that he finally caught a break. Instead, it was perhaps just a tad odd that he went from Hollywood to Bollywood.
“Usually people come here from India, but the opposite has happened to me. I was working on shows like The Office, Bones, and Arrested Development,” Mr. Vaidya reflected. “I went over there (to India) because I also work on films, and all of a sudden I was auditioning for (3 Idiots), and it was one of the biggest-grossing films of all time, and I became very well-known for my role, and things changed for me overnight.
“It’s something new, for Indians living in India, to see an NRI making it there. I think there will be a lot more now that I am here, and I am glad that I have been able to open some doors for other people,” he added.
Perhaps some of those doors will also be made to open for Indian cinema as a whole, as Mr. Vaidya points out that the international interest in films hailing out of Bollywood and other regional industries is picking up significant momentum.
“I think (Indian cinema) is becoming more global. The companies that are putting money into Bollywood films are Disney and Warner Brothers, and they want to make products that not only play to the Indian market, but play to the Saudi Arabian market and the Russian market. The Indian films are going to be much more universal,” Mr. Vaidya noted.
He added that the day will soon come where even the most casual of film fans in the United States will know of an iconic film hailing out of India in the same way they identify Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon with Hong Kong cinema, or Snatch and Trainspotting and as signature British films.
“There’s going to be that one movie that everyone knows about in America, in Kansas -- that one Indian movie,” Mr. Vaidya estimated. “Once that happens, there’s just going to be more and more and more. We’re going to have an Indian hit actor like Brad Pitt. It’s just a matter of time. I can’t say when that’s going to happen, because people have to be ready. But it’s going to happen.”
Perhaps Indian cinema will soon “happen” on the international stage in the manner Mr. Vaidya explains. Yet, when his potential celebrity was forecast to him by the filmmakers behind Big in Bollywood, the Indian American actor was not quite ready to take the prediction seriously.
“They kept saying that I was going to be famous after the movie came out,” he candidly observed. “They were just joking around, I thought, and it happened, and they got it all on film from the point where nobody knew who I was to everyone knew who I was, so it’s a big journey in the film (Big in Bollywood).”
That journey of apparent no-namer to recognizable actor is not only captured in Big in Bollywood, but also demonstrative in Mr. Vaidya’s newfound status in the Hindi film space. He is now in a position where he can turn down roles and be choosy about who he works with.
The key for him is to make sure he does not typecast himself as “The Silencer” in the way Gulshan Grover is always cast as a villain.
“When I first did 3 Idiots, after that, I was just getting other kinds of Chatur Ramalingam roles. They were really narrow, and I was saying ‘No’ to them. I really had to wait six months for a decent role,” Mr. Vaidya pointed out.
That decent role came in Dil To Baccha Hai. But the lot of acceptable roles did not stop there. In about a month, Mr. Vaidya will find himself starring alongside Akshay Kumar, John Abraham, Sanjay Dutt, Deepika Padukone, and Anupam Kher in the Eros Entertainment release of Desi Boyz.
When 2012 arrives, Mr. Vaidya will be in yet another potential blockbuster film in Players -- an action-adventure flick based on The Italian Job, and headlined by Abhishek Bachchan, Bobby Deol, Sonam Kapoor, Bipasha Basu, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Aftab Shivdasani, and Vinod Khanna.
Through it all, Mr. Vaidya is modestly trying to establish himself as a legitimate actor who, during the course of his career, will have demonstrated his ability to portray a diverse set of characters while also entertaining audiences worldwide.
Today, Omi Vaidya may be “Big in Bollywood.” Tomorrow, it might as well be “My Reflections on a Solid Career in Bollywood, Hollywood, and Everywhere Else.”
'Big in Bollywood' will be screening in Toronto this week and Atlanta next week. On October 22, 2011, it also screens at the San Diego Asian Film Festival.
Buzzine Bollywood's senior columnist Harish Rao also conducted an interview with Omi Vaidya for purposes of this story and contributed to this feature.