When Shonisani Masutha’s agent sent her the brief for an upcoming Bollywood series, she disqualified herself after reading it because she thought she was not good enough for the role.
“I just didn’t think they were looking for me. I also didn’t think I was good enough to go act in Bollywood as I hadn’t booked an acting job in about seven months and my confidence was shaky again.
“But my agent insisted that I go and try, and so I did. I was auditioning for Zeeworld in the room and for the production company in India via Skype at the same time, it was nerve racking but as an actress, you take those nerves and use them as fuel to keep you going and I just went for it,” she told Glamour.
Today, the South African is the first African actress to star in a Bollywood series, after taking what she describes as a “huge risk.”
Apart from Hollywood, Bollywood is one of the booming international film industries. Otherwise known as Hindi cinema, the Indian Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai, India represents the “largest chunk of domestic and international box office revenue, making it the largest sector in the Indian film industry.”
Revenue earned by Indian movies overseas nearly tripled in 2017, with box office collections outside of India growing to $367 million.
On her historic Bollywood role in the series Mahek, 28-year-old Masutha plays the role of Norah Gabela, an African young woman who moves to India with her family in hopes of making a better living for themselves.
“The characters face various trials and tribulations on their individual journeys, while being entangled in unexpected romantic situations,” writes Glamour.
“When I got the job I was in disbelief, I screamed for a minute straight and wow what a life-changing experience it was. It feels so great to be able to inspire young African actors across the continent. You aren’t limited to acting for and in your current place of dwelling.
“At any given moment, you as a young performer can make history and be the first ever young black lead in Bollywood. This experience has taught me that life starts at the end of your comfort zone and you never knows what coming so you have to stay ready. Mentally, physically and spiritually so that when an opportunity like this comes your way, you grab it with both hands and run,” the Limpopo actress said.
Born on December 30, 1991, Masutha has a strong background in both stage and film acting, having achieved an honours degree in Theatre and Performance from the University of Cape Town.
Her professional theatre debut was in the popular South African play called “Curl up & Dye” in 2014. The following year, she landed her television debut on Mzansi Magic in a feature film called “On the ropes” where she played Nandi, the daughter of a troubled boxer.
She also featured in the final episode of an American television series called “Royal Pains” before performing in the popular South African soapie “Muvhango” in 2016, as Langanani, the chief’s potential 5th wife.
Experts say her role as Langanani on “Muvhango” is what got her attracted to South African audiences.
And she’s now receiving more praise after moving to India for three months to shoot Mahek.
Last week, South Africa’s Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa congratulated her on her historic Bollywood role.
“Our hats go off to South African Actress, Shonisani Masutha who has become the first African actress to star in a Bollywood series.
“She plays the role of Norah Gabela in a series called ‘Mehek’. We wish you the very best on this new journey”, the minister wrote in a tweet posted on Friday.
For Masutha, moving to India gave her the opportunity to connect with other actors from the Asian country while finding similarities in her personal life with that of the character she played.
“I learned something similar to Norah and that’s where we get to see her and Shoni overlap a bit. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. I adapted so quick when I got to New Delhi – I dove straight into the culture, started learning Hindi, tasting foods I’ve never heard of, it was such an enriching experience.”
Being in Bollywood has also given her the chance to challenge herself and work harder than she’s ever done, she said.
“I got to grow in my craft rapidly – there was a lot to shoot and not a lot of time, so it was about pushing myself to stay true to Norah even if Shoni was tired! Moving to another continent for three months to shoot a show is really something I have always wished for and it was nothing short of a magical experience,” the dynamic and versatile actress said.