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From Cape Town To Bollywood

The loud and colorful world of Bollywood films could be one of the last places on earth you would expect to find a sober-minded South African graduate.

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She should have been a psychologist, but she ended up as a Bollywood film star instead.

Tarina Patel was born in Cape Town and schooled in Durban, South Africa. Like many in her family, she moved to Mumbai, India, to study medicine. In her first year she realized that it was not for her and returned home, where she majored in psychology and law. After earning an honors degree in clinical psychology she headed back to India.

Instead of working at one of her father’s medical centers in India, Patel became a model leading her to an, often precarious, acting career in Bollywood, where, according to Patel, there’s no security, tough competition and the people often abuse their power.

The unglamorous side of the industry is filled with struggle and rejection and if you’re not made of strong stuff, you’ll get swallowed. Patel jokes that her psychology background helps her survive.

Her academic family wanted her to do her Masters in Psychology at Yale University in the States and couldn’t understand why she had become an actress in India. They now travel to film shoots with her.

“With success comes a certain amount of acceptance,” she says.

Patel may not have any formal training in acting but feels that her modeling career more than prepared her for Bollywood. She has starred in numerous films including, Bhool Bhulaiyaa, in 2007. Ask her what her biggest film was and she’ll tell you that she’s yet to have one. She doesn’t feel like she’s reached the pinnacle of her career.

Last spring, Patel ventured into the unknown, yet again, as a guest star in one of South Africa’s popular soapies, The Wild. Playing a Bollywood diva, Patel took to it as easily as she did to her life in India but admits that she prefers films. Despite being on a break, she also managed to squeeze in a dance performance on South African Idols.

Patel is married to a former deputy director general at the South African Department of Trade and Industry, now turned businessman, Iqbal Sharma. Her life is a constant balancing act.

“My husband has always been my partner in every way, always encouraging me to fulfill my dreams and not worry about anything else,” she says.

The South African beauty wants to produce, which seems like the natural next step.

“It will be my first feature film that I’m producing, so you can understand my desire to do the maximum pre-production, rather than jumping in blindly and learning a lot of very expensive lessons along the way!” she writes from a shoot.

Patel is constantly on shoots and is in the process of filming a documentary on her life in the industry. She owns the rights and is trying to sell it.

“Being in the industry, particularly in India, it must be the most difficult and trying industry in the world,” she notes.

Being in Bollywood, one needs to speak Hindi. As a Gujarati—who grew up in South African boarding schools and speaks fluent English and Afrikaans—Patel had to teach herself the new language while modeling. No small task.

Patel finds life in India very exciting. Her face changes when she speaks of it; she’s both excited and serene. Weeks before the interview, she was in London three times over a three-week period and was everywhere from Moscow to Dubai for four months before that. As you read this, she’s somewhere in Europe hard at work. Patel jokingly says that Johannesburg is like a village and a farm compared to Mumbai. Why Bollywood?

“I didn’t stop and think about it… I just did [it].”

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