Nora Fatehi is Bollywood's new favourite dancing sensation. The Moroccan-Canadian actor-dancer has been making inroads in the industry since 2015, having appeared in songs in a number of movies across film industries, including Rocky Handsome, Mr X and Baahubali: The Beginning, among others.
More recently she's been seen in popular item songs like Stree's Kamariya, Satymeva Jayate's Dilbar and O Saki Saki in Nikkhil Advani's Batla House. The videos of the three songs have collectively garnered more than a billion views on Youtube. Outside of dancing, Fatehi has also had small roles in films like Bharat and will soon be seen in Remo D'Souza's Street Dancer 3D starring Varun Dhawan and Shraddha Kapoor.
In a recent interview with Anupama Chopra, she spoke about her journey to Bollywood, the struggles of aspiring to be a professional performer in a conservative Arab family and the film industry's treatment of foreigners. Here are five things you may not know about her.
Since childhood, my dream was that I act, play characters and do films, but I was not allowed to voice that. One time I said that I wanted to act, and my dad looked at me and said "don't ever say that again… If you want to do something in life, it better be a lawyer, doctor or teacher". In school I did a lot of drama classes, a lot of theatre, those extracurricular activities we had in school in Canada. But my family never knew. My dad thought I excelled as a student because I focussed on my studies, which I did. When I had come to India, it was to act and I just found myself dancing because they were the first opportunities that were coming. And I took them because in my head I'm like "I'm a performer, I'm an artist", so I should do everything.
If you watch me for four minutes in a song, you should feel inspired to go to a dance class or learn a new dance style. But it shouldn't be just "skin show, she's hot, move on"
I reached a point in my life where I had a lot of responsibilities at home and I was taking care of my younger brother on my own. After my parents divorced, I ended up in a very weird situation where it was just me and my brother. I had to be the breadwinner of the family and take care of him. After graduating from high school, I devoted 3-4 years just to my brother, supporting him financially, working so many jobs. I was working as a telemarketing customer service representative, I was working in a restaurant as a waitress, a bartender, I used to make hookah at hookah cafes… I did everything. I was a hustler. I realised that four years went by and I am not pursuing my dream. I remember telling my brother and my friends that I am going to India to become an actress.
I think my first opportunity was an ad that I did in the first month I came to the country. That was a huge ad, it was for Dove. In my eyes, I said to myself "Nora, you're a nobody here and you bagged something like this. That's huge". After that, I signed a film called Roar: Tigers of the Sundarbans. I signed another film, which was Prakash Jha's film. There I was a supporting character and I worked with really great actors like Shilpa Shukla, Swanand Kirkire, Ninad Kamat. All these people are really great actors. I remember them telling me, "just be patient and push through. If you have determination and trust in yourself, it will happen". I think that just stuck in my head, despite the fact that I was going through a lot of rejection and a lot people did cheat me. Agencies are not easy to deal with in this country, especially for foreigners. When I say foreigners, I don't speak of just actors, I speak of make-up artists, hairdressers, stylists. Anybody who comes to pursue a career here in the entertainment field, they go through a lot with agencies. A lot of them steal their money, bully them. I have my make-up artist friends who have done so well in this country but have zero rupees in their bank account because the agencies refuse to give them their money, and they have to laws that protect that for them and they have no rights and nobody helps them.
I have a knack for the arts. I like to dance, I like to act, and because I didn't have the resources to learn, I had to learn myself. I remember I used to lock myself in a room and YouTube all these performers that I really liked at that time. I really liked belly dance and it is something that is normal in my culture. Everyone belly dances. But I wanted to take it to another level. I started watching these professional dancers. There was one, in particular, her name is Didem, she is from Turkey. I used to watch, rewind, stop, rewind, look in the mirror, do a move. If it's not coming, try again the next day until that one move comes. And then it just went on from there to watching Beyonce videos all day, every day. I'm also a huge Madhuri Dixit fan so I used to watch all her songs.
I don't see these as item songs. They are performance-oriented songs, and they're very tough. And I do that on purpose. Whenever I have a conversation with any choreographer that comes on board, I say "Sir, make the choreography difficult". I want the audience to enjoy watching, they should learn, they should feel inspired. If you watch me for four minutes in a song, you should feel inspired to go to a dance class or learn a new dance style. But it shouldn't be just "skin show, she's hot, move on"… With Saki Saki, I said let's make the choreography freestyle and let's make it very hard. I remember Nikkhil (Advani) sir told the choreographer, "This is not a hook step. No-one will pick it up". For some reason I believed that the audience doesn't want me to do easy things, they want to see me do difficult things because it's visually cool. Otherwise you can take anyone in an item song and they'll justify it. I want to have a purpose in this industry and leave a mark.