Lin Laishram lounges on the verandah of her four-storied home in Imphal, dressed in a T-shirt and track pants. At 5’9”, she is tall for a Manipuri woman. An actor and a model, she has spent more time trying to crack the Mumbai circuit than she has in her hometown. Among a handful of actors from the northeastern region in the Hindi film industry, Laishram had auditioned for the lead role in Mary Kom, a biopic based on Manipuri boxer and world champion MC Mary Kom. While Priyanka Chopra ended up playing Kom, Laishram bagged a role of the boxer’s friend and sparring partner. “Two years ago, when I spoke to the director, I think they were looking for someone from the Northeast. Only much later did they decide on PC, and I completely get that — to be able to make a movie saleable and a hit, you have to cast big stars,’’ says the actor, who is in her twenties. There are other actors from the region in the film, like Rajni Basumatry from Assam who plays Mary’s mother. “They are key members of the cast, and they made Priyanka Chopra’s character seem real and rooted,” says Omung Kumar, who has directed Mary Kom (the film releases in September) .
Like Chopra, Laishram had to train for the movie, though she did not need the prosthetic make-up that the Bollywood actor required for the part. “I had to think and behave like a boxer, I had to change my body language,” she says. A junior national champion in archery, her sporting background helped considerably. Laishram’s struggle in Bollywood began after she graduated from Sophia College, Mumbai. She has been a model with Elite, worked in Naseeruddin Shah’s theatre group Rangbaaz and studied at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, New York. She has walked the ramp for Tarun Tahiliani and Shantanu-Nikhil, among others, and was featured on the Kingfisher calendar. Her first brush with Bollywood was a small role in Om Shanti Om. “I was studying at the time but went for it despite my exams because I absolutely love Shah Rukh Khan,’’ she says.
But she has very few illusions about how the system works. When she enters an agency to audition for an ad film, she ticks the box which says “foreign” because she knows she won’t be considered for the Indian roles. “I do