UK's 'Bollywood Star' talent hunt has 'big' winner

MUMBAI: "It happens only outside India." This story had a fairy tale ending the likes of which never, but never, come out of Bollywood's potboiler factory.

Britain's first major televised (on Channel 4 no less) talent hunt to find a genuine Hindi film star has thrown up the most unlikely of winners. Rupak Mann, a 34-year-old woman from Birmingham currently training to be a life coach, is Britain's first "Bollywood Star".

The larger than life (literally and figuratively) Mann had to beat back three other finalists to win a part in well known director Mahesh Bhatt's next movie.

An overjoyed Mann has been quoted as saying her preferred film part would be a "murderous psycho" in an action film. For Bhatt, who's a master at making over Hollywood hits to "suit" Indian tastes, Roseanne Barr's role in the 1989 black comedy She-Devil though low on action, might just fit the bill.

Mann, who emerged victorious from an original list of 100 hopefuls, was one of six finalists who were taken to India to audition before a panel of judges and a live audience. Those six were whittled down to four for Tuesday's final programme that was watched by 1.8 million viewers.

The final show saw the finalists take part in a stunt lesson with expert Mahendra Verma and receive fashion advice from Bollywood stylist Manish Maholtra.

A viewer from London's Birmingham told "Mann was always an audience favourite because nobody expected someone so unconventional to get through even the first round. But she was the best actress by a long way and I think it is great that the judges at all stages were able to recognise that and look past her physical appearance."

Mann left her home 17 years ago aiming to pursue a singing or dancing career. But she ended up doing numerous odd jobs including that of a bar-maid. After her mother's death, a dejected Mann started drinking and smoking too much as a result of which her weight ballooned.

The event, which was telecast as a four-part one-hour series at 9 pm prime time, has proved a resounding success for Channel 4.

The event's embrace of a woman, jokingly described by some "as so large she has no sideways" will no doubt turn attention away from the charges of racism levelled last week by a failed contestant.

South African born Rivona Essop, 23, had claimed in an interview to a newspaper back in her homeland that judges had told her she was "too dark" to make it to Bollywood.

As politically correct results go, this one will leave nothing for even the most desperate carper to crib about. So how about a toast to the (dare we say it?) fat lady who showed everyone she could sing, and how.

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